Its up-and-down trampoline of a season having given way to the cautious consistency of three straight wins, Southern Miss finds itself on the eve of its most directly meaningful regular season finale since 1999: one win over 5-6 Marshall results in an outright C-USA East title and a date in the league championship at Houston next week.
On that note, SMQ turned this week for his weekly chat with a blogger, reporter or other insider of Southern Miss' upcoming opponent to Doug Smock, Marshall beat man for the Charleston Gazette. Smock and SMQ met over tzatziki, melitzanosalata, taramosalata and hummus with cured olives and braised baby octopus to discuss peculiarly postmodern phenomenon, holistic causality and intra-activity of an (in general) partial totality and the epistemological tenets and mannerisms of poststructuralist (especially deconstructive) literary theory.
SMQ: The Herd have won four of five after a couple of tough months early in the season, apparently due to Jimmy Skinner taking more snaps than Bernard Morris and much moreso Ahmad Bradshaw exerting every tightly-packed ounce of PlayStation-nabbing rage on some fairly terrible defenses. A team to fear, or largely a result of the competition?
DS: Well...Herd fans have blamed Bernard Morris for everything from the 1-5 start to the voters' backlash against the GOP. Funny, it looked like the defense was to blame in the signature "L" of the year, 23-22 to UCF. The Jimmy Skinner for President campaign took a big hit at East Carolina two weeks ago, when the Pirates put 14 men in the box and dared the Herd to pass. Skinner was pretty average and forced a few. Me, I can only pin one loss on Morris - the SMU game.
Corral Bradshaw and you probably win. UTEP can't stop the run and
Memphis can't stop anything, but nobody expected AB to drop 242 on UAB. He entered that one honked off at the world, and I think that's a key. If you can slip him a PS3 console and make him happy, you could stop him cold.
Eight-man fronts, or a PlayStation 3: stopping Bradshaw requires one or the other
SMQ: Apparently taking cues from Florida's Tebow Effect and Arkansas' "Dickbone," Marshall went high school/old school single wing with Bradshaw regularly taking shotgun snaps last week, to spectacular effect against UTEP. Was this misdirection, or just straight draw-type stuff? What does it mean for the defense - will he throw? Option? Any chance USM won't see it?
DS: Shoot, he lined up once in the "empty set." When they snapped the ball, he ran it and dared UTEP to stop him. An option with Chubb Small is possible, but the forward pass would be scary prospect. The whole thing could go back into mothballs in Hattiesburg.
SMQ: The run defense seems inflated by holding mighty Hofstra to minus-five, and the pass defense has given up more yards per game than almost any other team in the country. How much concern is there facing USM's notoriously low-fi attack?
DS: This team is wafer-thin at tackle, so it's amazing it has played the run as well as it has. D. Fletcher could have a huge day. Against the pass, this team can get scorched on any given play, believe me. Shawn Nelson could catch for 300 yards, the way some tight ends have gotten loose. But...it's a defense that has forced a bunch of turnovers in conference play and D-end Albert McClellan is as good a player-of-year candidate as any.
SMQ: Last year's overtime win at Marshall was a dirty theft on part of the Eagles, a low-down escape that left all parties sullied and ashamed. What was the psychological effect on the Herd, and how does that memory matter Saturday?
DS: The Herd probably lost two games on that infamous night, which gave birth to the phrase "The Ghost of Derek DeFatta." (He's the freshman kicker, since departed, who doinked the upright in OT.) A week later, the Herd spit the bit late against ECU, perhaps running out of gas. That game was the sixth loss, which was followed by a mail-it-in job at Memphis -- yes, the loss to USM hurt like hell.
How much the memory will matter Saturday, I don't know, but Coach
Snyder said "My blood was boiling" as he watched the video all over again.
SMQ: You reviewed We Are Marshall. Matthew McConaughey in Huntington: Hot or Not?
DS: Are you kidding? This guy could have had all the free brownies, cookies and biscuits 'n gravy he could stuff down his piehole during the three weeks the movie filmed in Huntington. But at the same time, the locals gave him his space. The entire movie crew seemed to love its visit.
I'm such a movie non-buff that this was the first McConaughey film I've ever seen, but I have noooooooo doubt the ladies will swoon for him in this role.
Bring your Kleenex. You might just need it.
McConaughey enjoys brownies
Southern Miss and Marshall kick off at 6:30 p.m. Central Saturday in Hattiesburg