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Football Faces Roadrunners in Thursday Night Clash

Ito Smith rushed for his first collegiate touchdown against No. 23 Marshall.
Nov. 12, 2014

HATTIESBURG, Miss. - For the first time since 2011, the Southern Miss football team will play on a Thursday night when the Golden Eagles take on UTSA in a Conference USA matchup on Thursday night in the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. Kickoff is slated for 7:00 p.m. and the game will be aired on the CBS Sports Network (CBS SN).

The Golden Eagles (3-7, 1-5 C-USA) will meet the Roadrunners (2-7, 1-4 C-USA) for the first time in its football history this week. It will be the first non-Saturday, regular-season contest for the Golden Eagles since playing against UAB at Birmingham's historic Legend Field on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011.

Southern Miss makes its fifth all-time trip to the city of San Antonio and the first since the 1960 football season. The Golden Eagles are 4-0 in the Alamo City, having beaten Trinity three times and Saint Mary's once. The team outscored its opponents 58-13 in those contests, with Southern Miss posting three shutouts. USM defeated Saint Mary's 7-0 (11/29/41), and Trinity 20-13 (11/10/56), 15-0 (9/27/58) and 16-0 (10/8/60).

The Golden Eagles are in their 19th season of Conference USA play. Southern Miss has posted an all-time 85-54 record (.612) in C-USA games and has more championships in the history of the league in football with five. Southern Miss is 42-28 in C-USA games played on the road. This will be the third-straight road contest in the state of Texas for the Golden Eagles. Southern Miss is 1-1 in these games this season.

Southern Miss enters Thursday night's game after hosting nationally ranked Marshall. The Thundering Herd were the second ranked opponent the Golden Eagles had faced this season with the other being No. 3 Alabama. Mississippi State was not ranked by the Associated Press when they Golden Eagles met them in the season opener, but is currently ranked No. 1 in the country.

Southern Miss is off its highest first-quarter scoring game with 14 points against Marshall. On Southern Miss' first drive against the Herd, the Black and Gold registered their longest scoring drive of the year, which took 6:20 and culminated on an Ito Smith 2-yard run. The team rushed for 186 yards against the Herd, marking the third-most rushing yards in a game this season.

Smith collected a season-best 141 yards on 27 carries against Marshall. It was Smith's second 100-yard rushing game of the season and the most yards on the ground for a Golden Eagle running back since Kendrick Hardy rushed for 172 yards against Rice on Oct. 1, 2011. He became the first Golden Eagle freshman to register 100 yards or more on the ground since Jamal Woodyard collected 134 on 16 carries against UTEP (10/29/11) and the first true freshman to reach that plateau since Damion Fletcher ran for 151 yards on 25 carries against Marshall on Nov. 25, 2006.

The improved rushing success is directly attributed to the improvement of the o-line. The Southern Miss offensive line has seen eight different players start this season. Rashod Hill (left tackle), Brandon Farmer (left guard) and Cameron Tom (center) have started in all 10 games. At right guard, Fred Moore started the first five games of the season, before Devin Farrior came on to get the nod the last five games. Three different players have started at right tackle in 2014 at right tackle including Norman Price (four times), Jerry Harris (four times) and Oliver Bates (twice). The line has had nine current players make at least one start in their careers and there is a total of 83 starts for the Golden Eagles there.

Cole Weeks entered the game on the Golden Eagles' second possession against Louisiana Tech after quarterback Nick Mullens left with a foot injury. In his first significant playing time, Weeks finished 28-of-45 for 338 yards, a pair of interceptions and his first career touchdown pass - a 16-yard strike to Michael Thomas. Weeks became just the 11th Southern Miss quarterback to throw for over 300 yards in a game and the first ever USM quarterback to throw for over 300 yards off the bench. The following week, Weeks earned his first collegiate start on the road at UTEP. The redshirt senior threw for the second-most yards by a Golden Eagle making his first career start, throwing for 309 yards on 20-of-46 passing and a touchdown. He hit Casey Martin for a career-long 55-yard touchdown early in the third quarter, which was the Golden Eagles longest offensive play of the season.

Mullens, who returned to practice on Monday night, has been fine over the two days of practices in his return, but Monken added that the Hoover, Ala., product would be a game-time decision.

Defensively, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, regarded as one of the top defensive linemen for the Golden Eagles, returned this season after missing the final 10 games a year ago with a foot injury. Nunez-Roches, a 2012 Honorable Mention All-Conference USA selection, returned in 2014 and is a force on the defensive front. This season, Nunez-Roches has posted 53 total tackles, good for fourth on the squad, with a team-best 13.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks. The junior had arguably the best game of his career against UTEP, tallying a career-best 11 tackles to go along with two sacks, a blocked field goal and a pair of QB hurries.

Off the field, Nunez-Roches started a community service project to help the less fortunate called "Backpacks for the Homeless." Each season before Thanksgiving, Nunez-Roches collects nonperishable items, including blankets, clothing, gift cards, etc. and puts them in backpacks to distribute on Thanksgiving to the homeless community of Hattiesburg. The junior started his campaign back in high school and his mother, Nancy, also has a "Backpacks for the Homeless" campaign back in Phenix City, Ala.

Earlier this week, kicker Corey Acosta and offensive lineman Cameron Tom were each named to the 2014 Capitol One Academic All-District 6 First Team. Acosta holds a 3.81 grade point average in Biological Sciences through his studies at Southern Miss, while Tom has posted a 3.80 GPA as a Business major. First-team Academic All-District honorees, which include Acosta and Tom, advance to the Capital One Academic All-America Team ballot, where All-America honorees will be selected. Southern Miss football has had two First-Team and two Second-Team Academic All-Americans in its history. The last Golden Eagle to achieve that was quarterback Jeff Kelly, who earned Second-Team honors is 2000.

In addition, Acosta was named one of 20 semifinalists for the 2014 Lou Groza Collegiate Place-Kicker Award, which was released by the Palm Beach County (Fla.) Sports Commission and presented by the Orange Bowl. The Memphis, Tenn. native was announced as one of 12 finalists for the 2014 Wuerffel Trophy, the national award that honors the college football player who best exhibits exemplary community service and presented by The All Sports Association Inc. from Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

Following the UTSA game this week, the Golden Eagles will enjoy their final open week before finishing the regular season at home against UAB on Nov. 29.

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