X-Factor of the Week – Southern Miss Edition


Every week there will be one player or coach who will be considered the x-factor.  The x-factor is player/coach who will really need to perform well that week, in order for the Dawgs to come away with a win.  Essentially the x-factor is the make-or-break position on the field for that week.

When you first think about the Golden Eagles of Southern Mississippi, you think about their recent football woes.  You think about how they went from a good football team to very poor football team seemingly overnight.  You look at the talent they once had to the talent they have now, and you naturally assume that there is no way that they can keep up with the Bulldogs on Saturday night.

Southern Miss returns their starting quarterback from a year ago in Nick Mullins, as well as gain a transfer quarterback from TCU in Tyler Matthews.  They also return all four running backs from last year, and add another transfer from Michigan in Justice Hayes.  They also return their top two receivers from 2014, as well as return their top target from 2013 from injury.  On the offensive line, the Eagles return five linemen who have started at least one game in their career.  So at first glance USM may seem like a blowout waiting to happen for the Dawgs, but the truth is they return a lot of experience, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

Now with all of that being said, the Bulldogs should be able to handle Golden Eagles with relative ease on Saturday night, but stranger things have happened.  In 2008, Mississippi State went into Ruston, Louisiana expecting to roll over the Bulldogs of Louisiana Tech.  MSU simply wasn’t ready to play that day.  Not trying to compare that team to the 2015 team, because the difference is night and day.  But the idea is that anything can happen on any given day.

The only way that Southern Miss will be able to keep up with the Mississippi State’s high powered offense is if the Bulldogs simply aren’t ready to play.  There would have to be blown assignments and missed tackles. So for that reason the x-factor for Week 1 is defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.  This is Diaz’s first year back in Starkville since he was the defensive coordinator in 2010.  Diaz will have to get his guys fired up and ready to play come Saturday night.  Much has been made by the national media of the inexperience on this team, especially the defensive side of the football.  Diaz has to come out on Saturday night looking to prove the nation wrong.  If Diaz calls the game he is capable of, the game shouldn’t ever be in question.  He is known for his aggressive blitz packages leading to turnovers.  With the skill set on the defensive line and linebacking core, he should be able to get pretty creative with play calling.  Also with arguably the top cornerback duo returning in the SEC, Diaz should feel confident in sending some extra guys on the blitz.

So if the Dawgs come to play on Saturday night like we know they are capable of, then the game should be over by the time the fourth quarter comes around.  In order for that to happen, Manny Diaz will have to get the defense ready to play.  If he doesn’t have them fired up, then expect a long night at M. M. Roberts Stadium.