Schedule Preview: Southern Miss

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Following a nationally-televised tilt with major season ramifications against the LSU Tigers Labor Day weekend in Orlando, the Florida State Seminoles will open their 2023 home slate under the lights in Doak Campbell Stadium against the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles on Saturday, September 9.

FSU will have a short week of preparation for USM and based on how the game goes against LSU, this could potentially be a trap slot for the Seminoles if they sleepwalk. Southern Miss boasts a dangerous running back and some stars on defense, enough to put a scare into the Seminoles if they don’t take things seriously.

Florida State vs. Southern Miss

Date, time: September 9, 2023 at 8:30 pm EST

Location: Tallahassee, FL

Previous matchup: FSU defeated Southern Miss 42-13 in the 2017 Independence Bowl, and Florida State also won the most recent regular season matchup in 1996 by a score of 54-14.

All-time series: FSU leads 14-8-1

Southern Miss Golden Eagles: Team Preview

2022 record: 7-6 (4-4 conference)

Two things to know:

However, Southern Miss will be breaking in a new defensive coordinator after the defection of Austin Armstrong, who ultimately landed with the Florida Gators as their new DC. Dan O’Brien was elevated from safeties coach to helm the USM defense. O’Brien previously spent time at Navy and Georgia, so it will be interesting to see how he puts his fingerprints on the defense.

In 2021, three freshman QBs and a sophomore all saw time, but the most successful passer on the team was running back Frank Gore Jr. The Eagles finished a dismal 129th in offensive SP+. In 2022, Ty Keyes won the QB job but got hurt almost immediately. Freshman Zach Wilcke stepped in and played well for a bit, but backslid (as freshmen often do), and Trey Lowe took over down the stretch. He looked great in the final two games ... and then transferred to Liberty. In 2023, Wilcke is back, and Hall brought in former Houston backup Holman Edwards and Clemson backup Billy Wiles.

Whoever wins the job will have Gore to lean on, a couple of talented wide receivers and a solid tight end to throw to, and some nice returning experience in the offensive line.

Three key players:

Name sound familiar? The younger Gore put on a record-breaking performance in Southern Miss’ 38-24 LendingTree Bowl win over Rice last season, rushing for a school-record 329 yards on 21 carries — an average of 17.5 yards per carry. He had touchdown runs of 64 and 55 yards, helping him land on the Associated Press and PFF All-Bowl Teams.

Gore rushed for 1,382 yards last season and averaged 106.3 per game, a career-best. He scored nine touchdowns on the ground and added four more receiving scores. For his efforts, Gore was named First Team All-Sun Belt. This preseason, Gore was honored with Fourth Team All-American and First Team All-Sun Belt nods.

Southern Miss’ top ballhawk, Stanley played in 13 games last season and recorded seven interceptions. He posted a career-best 64 total tackles, had 4.5 tackles for loss, and added 1.5 sacks and 12 pass deflections. He was named Third Team All-Sun Belt.

Stanley started his career at Ole Miss and will look to build on his productive junior season as the leader of the defensive backfield for Southern Miss. At 6’2” and 215 pounds, he has great size and won’t be bullied often by opposing wideouts.

Another Ole Miss transfer, Bivens made 10 starts in his first season with Southern Miss and recorded 32 total tackles. He finished with 5.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. He had a career-high six tackles in a win over Tulane and registered at least one tackle in every game, including eight with two tackles or more.

Bivens and senior NT Jalen Williams form an experienced and destructive interior DL duo for the Golden Eagles, both being named to numerous preseason All-Sunbelt Conference teams.

Florida State vs. Southern Miss: Game Preview

Best Case

The best case scenario is one in which FSU enters this game 1-0 and relatively healthy, riding the confidence from another season-opening win against LSU to a dominant victory at home. Regardless of the LSU game, however, FSU’s goals should be as follows:

A. Come out aggressive against the Golden Eagles, overwhelm them early, and keep the foot on the gas pedal long enough to build a comfortable margin.

2. Leave the starters in long enough to continue to gel and allow them to gain valuable reps when their opponents aren’t also wearing garnet and gold. Keep everybody as healthy as possible with solid rotations and substitutions. No need to pad stats tonight.

D. Get at least one full quarter of garbage time for younger players to get reps.

Realistic Case

Whether FSU is buoyed by a win or stung by a loss in the opener, it would be normal to see some of the new players dealing with high emotions or mental errors as they play under the lights at home for the first time as Seminoles. Get it out of the way early, settle down, and do what you do best.

I think a realistic outcome (independent of what happened the prior week) would be to see FSU overcome some early hiccups and finish with a comfortable victory margin of several touchdowns, even if the final score is closer due to garbage time scores. This will also be a game in which coaches get a good feel for how the team responds, either to success or adversity.

Worst Case

The LSU game will undoubtedly be a very physical contest, coupled with one less day of recovery before taking on Southern Miss. A worst-case scenario would revolve around injuries to key players, but I don’t want to type any of that stuff into existence.

If LSU wins the opener and the Seminoles come into this game sleepwalking, USM will at minimum put a scare into FSU. They do have enough talent to pull out a win if FSU shoots itself in the foot too many times.

But remember, Brett Favre ain’t runnin’ through that tunnel. Contain the run game and hit enough explosive plays on offense, and this should be a wrap.

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