HATTIESBURG, Miss. — It’s widely viewed that Boise State’s powerhouse football program has taken a slight step backward this season.
Southern Miss coach Ellis Johnson isn’t buying the supposed decline.
“Don’t be fooled — this is a top 20 football team,” Johnson said. “When you watch them on film, there is some really impressive execution.”
The Golden Eagles (0-4) host the Broncos (3-1) on Saturday at Roberts Stadium. The two programs have been among the best in the non-BCS category over the past several years, but while Boise State is still chugging along with buckets of victories, Southern Miss has fallen on hard times.
The Golden Eagles are winless through September for the first time since 1976.
But last week’s 21-17 loss to then-No. 19 Louisville provided some hope that things will get better soon. Southern Miss led for much of the game, but Louisville rallied in the second half.
Boise State coach Chris Petersen said Johnson — the first-year Southern Miss coach — has the Golden Eagles headed in the right direction.
“You watch a team and see if they’re getting better, what their skill level is, and this is maybe a team that has as many athletes as any team we’ve seen so far,” Petersen said. “Sometimes when it’s a new system... it takes a game or two for things to kind of start clicking. You can tell that they’re growing and getting it figured out.”
Maybe so, but the Golden Eagles still have issues. Especially at quarterback.
Redshirt freshman Ricky Lloyd will likely get his second straight start. He was a non-factor in the Louisville loss, completing just 2 of 8 passes for 25 yards.
But those numbers were skewed because the game was played in a downpour that greatly curtailed passing opportunities for both teams. Johnson has said Lloyd is a capable passer, and will have a better opportunity to show it against Boise State.
The Broncos have won three straight games, but the past two have been a struggle. They nearly lost on the road at New Mexico last week, holding on a for 32-29 victory. The Lobos had just a 1-11 record last season.
Boise State is still adjusting to life without four-year starting quarterback Kellen Moore, even though junior Joe Southwick appears to be improving. He completed 24 of 34 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns against New Mexico.
“They are probably not as flexible and as versatile and wide open as they were, but they still give you a multitude of formation movement and motions that make it very difficult for a defense to adjust to,” Johnson said. “They’ve still got talent. They are very aggressive in their play calling.”
The Broncos will have to adjust to an early wake-up call for Saturday’s game. It’s an 11 a.m. CT kickoff in Mississippi, but will feel like 10 a.m. for Boise State, which is coming from the Mountain Time Zone.
Petersen has moved many of Boise State’s practices to 8:30 a.m. this season, and hopes the adjustment will help.
“Those early-morning games, we’ve done one of them,” Petersen said. “They’re very awkward. Hopefully, (the early practices) help us somehow, some way, and at least they’re used to getting up early.”
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