New Orleans Bowl: Southern Miss 28, Louisiana 21: 5 Things That Matter, What's Next?

New Orleans Bowl: Southern Miss 28, Louisiana 21: 5 Things That Matter, What's Next?

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New Orleans Bowl: Southern Miss 28, Louisiana 21: 5 Things That Matter, What's Next?

R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Southern Miss 28, Louisiana-Lafayette 21: 5 Things That Matter, What’s Next For 2017

Southern Miss had to hang on for dear life, but it came away with a 28-21 New Orleans Bowl win over Louisiana-Lafayette.

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The Southern Miss skills guys showed up

It was Allenzae Staggers’ day. He caught 11 passes for 230 yards and a score, but most of that came in the first half as the Ragin’ Cajun defense clamped down a wee bit in the second. Ito Smith was Ito Smith, being his shifty self for 118 yards and two scores, and catching a touchdown pass, too, while Nick Mullens was sharp until a late pick that kept the game interesting. The Golden Eagles did everything they were supposed to do offensively at times, except run out the clock. Being explosive was terrific, but they should’ve been able to salt this away without such a fight.

Louisiana-Lafayette couldn’t get the offensive line play needed, but …

The team just hung around, hung around, and hung around, and it made the most of its opportunities late to make Southern Miss sweat it out. The line couldn’t keep Anthony Jennings clean – he had no time whatsoever to throw – but he was able to run a bit, Elijah McGuire was able to fight for key yards, and even though the O was dead at times, there was a shot in the final seconds.

And then there was the final drive.

The clock management at the end wasn’t anything great, and the play-calling was a disaster, but somehow, the Ragin’ Cajuns stayed alive into the final seconds. They didn’t quit, turning what should’ve been a dud of a game into a terrific late battle.

Both teams had their issues

The Louisiana-Lafayette offense didn’t march and couldn’t sustain drives – it couldn’t convert key third down plays. Give the Southern Miss defense credit for being more active and tougher on a big fourth down stop, and on third down play after third down play.

But the Golden Eagles struggled to close, with 13 penalties, two key turnovers, and by inexplicably keeping the passing game rolling when Smith and the running game should’ve taken over. But no matter how it looked, USM pulled it off.

What’s next for Louisiana-Lafayette in 2017?

It might not have been the big year the team was supposed to have, but even with the problems it made its way into a bowl game. Next year, it’s going to need some more work after losing QB Anthony Jennings and star RB Elijah McGuire. These two carried the offense at times, while not having WR Al Riles around should be an issue, too. But four starters are back up front, and there are some good young options for the backfield.

The defense should be the strength early on with everyone returning up front and the safety tandem of Travis Crawford and Tracy Walker a good one. Linebacker will be a concern, and corners have to emerge, but there’s just enough depth overall to be okay.

What’s next for Southern Miss in 2017?

Bowl superstar Allenzae Staggers is back, easing the transition to – most likely – Keon Howard taking over the quarterbacking reigns from Nick Mullins. Slashing back Ito Smith will be a senior, but he’ll need his line to develop in a hurry with three starters gone including pro prospect center Cameron Tom. If Howard, or another QB option, is ready, the receiving corps will be there to keep the passing game flying.

The defense has to replace free safety D’Nerius Antoine, but most of the secondary returns. The linebacking corps loses key starters, and the line has to replace Dylan Bradley on the nose, but the front seven should be a strength with a little bit of time.

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