2008 New Orleans Bowl Preview - USM vs. Troy
Troy's Brandon Lang & USM's Damion Fletcher
Troy's Brandon Lang & USM's Damion Fletcher
Posted Dec 19, 2008

It's a better matchup than you might think as Damion Fletcher and Southern Miss try to get by Brandon Lang and the great Troy defense in the 2008 R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. Check out the preview & prediction for a game that should be better than anything the NFL has to offer on Sunday.

2008 R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl

Troy (8-4) vs. Southern Miss (6-6)

Dec. 21, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN

$325,000   Location: Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, LA

2008 New Orleans Bowl History, Player Profiles, Best Bowl Moments, & More

- 2006 CFN New Orleans Bowl Preview | 2007 CFN New Orleans Bowl Preview

National Rankings
Troy Southern Miss
Total Offense
26th  245.92 ypg 20th  434.50 ypg
Total Defense
30th  319.58 ypg 71st  369.25 ypg
Scoring Offense
23rd  33.25 ppg 33rd  30.67 ppg
Scoring Defense
31st  20.58 ppg 53rd  23.83 ppg
Run Offense
36th  175.5 ypg 24th  196.33 ypg
Run Defense
54th  139.17 ypg 68th  145.33 ypg
Pass Offense
32nd  245.92 ypg 38th  238.17 ypg
Pass Defense
23rd  180.42 ypg 84th  223.92 ypg
Turnover Margin
27th  0.50  9th  1.08
at Mid Tenn W 31-17
Alcorn State W 65-0
at Ohio St L 28-10
at Okla St L 55-24
at FAU W 30-17
FIU W 33-23
at N Texas W 45-17
at ULM L 31-30
W Kentucky W 17-7
at LSU L 41-30
UL Laf W 48-3
Arkansas St W 35-9
Southern Miss
UL Laf W 51-21
at Auburn L 27-13
at Ark St W 27-24
Marshall L 34-27
UTEP L 40-37 2OT
Boise State L 24-7
at Rice L 45-40
at Memphis L 36-30
UAB W 70-14
at UCF W 17-6
East Carolina W 21-3
at SMU W 28-12
Position Ratings
relative to each other
T 5 highest
1 lowest
4 Quarterbacks 4.5
4 RBs 5
3.4 Receivers 4
5 O Line 3.5
4 D Line 3
5 Linebackers 3.5
4 Secondary 3
4 Spec Teams 3
4 Coaching 3.5

This is a good bowl game you need to watch. No, really. The New Orleans Bowl should be really, really good.

Fine, so you’ll probably be awash in NFL/your fantasy team playoff talk on Sunday, but for college fans, this is the lone bowl game of the day and the only one until Tuesday. It’ll be worth it.

Even with a stunning 31-30 loss to a bad UL Monroe team on the first day of November, Troy was the best team in the Sun Belt by far. With terrific lines, one of the nation’s best pass rushes, a great offensive front in pass protection, and a defense that led the league in just about every candidate, this is a tough team that’s more than capable of winning its second New Orleans Bowl in three years.

Meanwhile, Southern Miss has gotten stronger as head coach Larry Fedora’s first season has gone on, winning the final four games, including a 21-3 victory over eventual Conference USA champion, East Carolina, to become bowl eligible. Injuries, personnel changes, and inconsistencies led to a rough start with a five-game losing steak, bottoming out with defeats to Marshall and UTEP all but killing the season. And then the offense got hot, the defense got hotter, and the Fedora era is off and running.

While the Golden Eagles are just happy to be bowling with their 6-6 record, they took the New Orleans Bowl bid early on when they probably could’ve held out for something a bit bigger. They might have been able to lobby to get the St. Petersburg Bowl bid against South Florida over Memphis, but they’ll have their hands full with the Trojan team still smarting from being left out of the bowls last year despite going 8-4.

This is USM’s seventh straight bowl appearance and the 11th in the last 12 years. While post-season games are expected for the program, the overall goal is to get back to the dominant level when this was
the premier team in Conference USA. There’s enough talent coming back to be among the favorites next year, and a win over Troy could do wonders for 2009.

On the flip side, with the Sun Belt improving by leaps and bounds this year overall, Troy can further enhance its growing reputation with an impressive win. The league has won the last two New Orleans Bowls after losing three straight to Conference USA, hurt by two wins from Southern Miss. A win would be Troy’s 25th in three years and would set the tone for next year when it’ll likely be the preseason pick to win the Sun Belt title.

No, this isn’t the first bowl of the season anymore, and six of the seven bowls have been duds, but it’ll be stunning if this is anything less than competitive and entertaining. There are plenty of great players, each team is coming in on a roll, and it should all mean one of the more fun bowls of the early part of the season.

Players to watch: It’s been a bit of a disappointing season for Southern Miss RB Damion Fletcher, who “only” ran for 1,235 yards and nine touchdowns after getting a bit banged up. A good pro prospect, he didn’t make the national noise that former Conference USA stars Kevin Smith and Matt Forte got in 2007, but if he blows up against Troy, he could be one of the hot names going into next year … if he doesn’t turn pro early. With 4,209 career yards and 35 rushing touchdowns, he has the résumé, and he’s used to producing in bowls with two touchdowns in the 28-7 win over Ohio in the 2007 GMAC Bowl and 155 yards in the loss to Cincinnati in the 2007 PapaJohns.com Bowl.

Looking to shut down Fletcher will be the all-star linebacking tandem of Boris Lee and Bear Woods. Lee was the star of the show coming into the season after making 82 tackles in a breakout sophomore season. He led the Trojans with 99 stops this year, using is speed and toughness to overcome his 6-0, 212-pound size. He doesn’t miss a stop, and neither does his running mate, Woods. A backup coming into this season, Woods had moments when he was the main man of the defense. Built like Lee, Woods can move and is terrific in the open field.

Southern Miss has a linebacking star of its own in junior Gerald McRath, the intense leader of the defense and a strong pro prospect. A likely second round pick if he chooses to come out early, McRath is a big hitter with 375 career stops. Always looking to get better, he made 35 tackles in a two game stretch against Rice and Memphis but was inconsolable because the team lost and he beat himself up for not doing more. This is his chance to shine on a national stage.  

While much has been made about the emergence of Troy’s Levi Brown after quarterbacks Jamie Hampton and Tanner Jenkins went down for the year, it was the emergence of sophomore DuJuan Harris that helped make the difference for the offense down the home stretch. The smallish, tough back ran for 234 yards in a key win over UL Lafayette and finished with 1,025 yards and 11 scores. While he’s not necessarily a workhorse, he can handle the ball 20+ times if needed and can be used as a receiver.

Troy will win if... the defensive front hangs out in the Southern Miss backfield. Golden Eagle freshman QB Austin Davis has put together a special season with 21 touchdown passes with just eight interceptions, throwing just two in the final six games, and he’s a runner with five touchdowns coming against UAB alone. While Fletcher can handle the running game by himself, Troy needs to pressure Davis and force him to take off, rather than allow him time to find star WR DeAndre Brown. USM is 2-5 when Davis throws an interception, and 4-1 when he doesn’t. If Brandon Lang and the Troy line can get to him early, there will be at least one pick for the ball-hawking secondary.
Southern Miss will win if... the run defense shows up. It’s no coincidence that the four-game winning streak at the end of the year happened when the run defense became a brick wall. After allowing 127 rushing yards or more in each of the first eight games, the run defense didn’t allow more than 96 the rest of the way, highlighted by holding East Carolina to 66 yards and SMU to four. Memphis ran for three touchdowns, but those were the only scores allowed on the ground over the last seven games. The Southern Miss secondary can be beaten, but as long as the offense shows up and forces Troy to try to play catch-up, the rest of the USM defense should be able to get the job done.  

What will happen: Southern Miss might have the top QB-RB-WR combination of any non-BCS team, or it’s at least among the best with Young, Fletcher and Brown all able to carry the offense if needed. However, Troy has the lines. The skill players might not be as good, but with the offensive front allowing everyone time to work, the Trojan offense should be able to move the ball. On the other side, the Troy front seven should control the game for long enough stretches to come up with the win.
Line: Troy -4 ... CFN Prediction: Troy 27 … Southern Miss 17

2008 New Orleans Bowl History, Player Profiles, Best Bowl Moments, & More