Posted by Chip Patterson
SOUTHERN MISS WILL WIN IF: The Golden Eagles back up their talk about this game meaning something. When Larry Fedora accepted the North Carolina head coaching job, his players were disappointed but understanding. Some players have even said they are happy for their head coach, and the opportunity he'll get moving forward. But even in accepting the job, Fedora wants to coach the Conference USA champions in the Hawaii Bowl for a chance to make program history. In over 100 years of Southern Miss football, no team has ever won 12 games in a season. A win over the Wolf Pack on Christmas Eve would give the 11-2 Golden Eagles a historic finish to the Fedora era in Hattiesburg. But how much of the upbeat "let's make history" motivation is running through the entire roster?
Star quarterback Austin Davis should have plenty of motivation, but the underclassmen are staring down a long flight to an early bowl to play for a coach on his way out the door. Both offenses are ranked in the Top 15 nationally in scoring, and coming out flat would be a fast way to let the game get out of hand. Since 2002, the winning team in the Hawaii Bowl has averaged 48.4 points per game. We know both teams are capable of putting up those kinds of numbers, so Southern Miss will need to play fast and energetic for all 60 minutes to claim that historic 12th win.
NEVADA WILL WIN IF: The Wolf Pack can limit turnovers and establish the running game. Before their arguably effortless blowout victory against Idaho to close the season, Nevada's offense struggled in back-to-back four-point losses to Louisiana Tech and Utah State. In both games Nevada failed to turn successful drives into touchdowns, settling for field goals that in total could have changed the outcome of the game. Also prevalent in both losses, as well as throughout the season, were costly turnovers that kept the Wolf Pack from the end zone. With WAC Freshman of the Year Cody Fajardo returning from his sprained ankle and senior Lampford Mark looking to continue his streak of five-straight 100+ yard games on the ground, there should be plenty of offensive potential as long as Nevada does not shoot themselves in the foot.
X-FACTOR: Cody Fajardo's injured ankle. Fajardo sprained his ankle in Nevada's 21-17 loss at Utah State on Nov. 26, but all signs point to the the WAC's Freshman of the Year returning to start against Southern Miss in the bowl game. Fajardo was just the quarterback head coach Chris Ault needed to replace Colin Kapernick, now with the San Francisco 49ers. The freshman phenom finished the season with six passing touchdowns and 11 rushing touchdowns - the latter being good enough for seventh nationally among quarterbacks. With Mark's aforementioned explosion in the second half of the season, the Wolf Pack rushing attack can be as potent as it was a year ago with Kapernick at the helm. But if Fajardo is tentative or otherwise not 100 percent on his legs, it could play a huge roll in Southern Miss being able to make plays in the backfield.
Check out all the latest updates on Southern Miss and Nevada right up until kickoff at the Hawaii Bowl Pregame
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Keys to the Game: Hawaii Bowl
Posted on: December 16, 2011 5:08 pm
Edited on: December 16, 2011 6:29 pm
Tags: Bowl Predictions, Bowl Preview, Bowl Projections, Bowl Schedule, Bowl Week Schedule, Chip Patterson, Chip Patterson, Conference USA, Hawaii Bowl, Hawaii Bowl Keys, Hawaii Bowl Keys to the Game, Hawaii Bowl Preview, Hawaii Bowl Projection, Hawaii Bowl Time, Hawaii Bowl TV, Keys to the Game, Matchup Preview, Nevada, Nevada Football, Non-BCS, Southern Miss, Southern Miss football, WAC