BOISE — A dozen starters returned from a team that won a school-record 12 games, two more than any year in team history, yet Southern Miss is 0-4 coming into Saturday’s home game against Boise State.
The Golden Eagles have 18 consecutive winning seasons, a mark that is certainly to be in danger if the ship isn’t righted soon. Four-year coach Larry Fedora left for North Carolina in the offseason, and in stepped former South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson.
“It’s been frustrating, because I don’t think we’ve yet matched what we’re capable of doing,” Southern Miss center Austin Quattrochi said. “You win and lose as a team. As a player, you have to ask ‘what can I be doing better?’ It’s not as much on the coaches as it is on us.”
Southern Miss has lost by a combined 54 points on the road at Nebraska and Western Kentucky, while its home losses have been a 24-14 setback against East Carolina and a 21-17 loss to No. 19 Louisville last week in a torrential downpour.
“I think our players, hopefully, can gain something from this from a standpoint of confidence in knowing that we can play against good football teams and have a chance to win it,” Johnson said after the Louisville loss. “Now, we’ve got to learn how to close it out.”
Boise State is 2-0 all-time against the Golden Eagles, winning 38-16 in Boise in 2007, then nabbing a 24-7 win in Hattiesburg the following year.
Considering the area from which Southern Miss recruits, plus seeing first-hand what the program can offer, Boise State coach Chris Petersen is treating the Golden Eagles like the best winless team in the nation.
“I don’t even kind of think of them (as 0-4),” Petersen said. “You watch a team and you see if they’re getting better, what their skill level is -- and they may be a team that has as many athletes as any team we’ve seen so far.”
Perhaps the most notable dropoff for Southern Miss has been on offense, where it was No. 17 last season, but currently sits 119th in the FBS — only Tulane averages fewer yards per game.
Three quarterbacks have seen significant time thus far, completing 34-of-79 passes for 434 yards. The top three on the team’s depth chart for Saturday are freshmen, making it an even tougher task to replace Austin Davis, who broke most of Brett Favre’s school passing records.
“Losing a guy like Austin is a big blow, but we have some good, young guys at quarterback,” Quattrochi said. “Anyway, it doesn’t just fall on one guy’s shoulders — we all have a part in it.”
Boise State’s players and coaches aren’t preparing for just one quarterback, considering the mixture the Golden Eagles have used. Among the ones the Broncos have noticed is true freshman Anthony Alford (126 yards in three games), who turned down Alabama and LSU, among others, to stay home and go to Southern Miss.
“We’re not quite sure (who will play), they’ve got three quarterbacks, but they did a good job last week in the rain bowl,” Boise State linebackers coach Bob Gregory said. “Those guys are good athletes, especially (Alford), he’s a good player.”
Despite struggling out of the gates, the Golden Eagles still have plenty to play for, starting Saturday.
“We’ve only had one conference game, so we can still accomplish what we did last year, getting a league title,” Quattrochi said. “We have a heck of a test Saturday, so if we play well, that’s going to give us a lot of momentum into our league games.”