HATTIESBURG, MISS. (AP) - Korey Williams speaks for everybody at Southern Miss: Seven wins just isn’t good enough.
“I hate losing more than I love winning,” the middle linebacker said. “If you have any love for the game, you know 7-6 is not any good at all.”
Coach Larry Fedora kicks off his third season with the Golden Eagles with a sense of urgency after slow starts scuttled high hopes the last two years. In both cases, Southern Miss put together late runs to earn bowl berths.
But that wasn’t the mission statement when Fedora replaced Jeff Bower following a 7-6 season.
Southern Miss has achieved many of the things it wanted by bringing in Fedora. The excitement level has been high since the start of his tenure. Ticket sales are up and donations are easier to come by.
The wins have to come now.
“We need to get it done,” quarterback Austin Davis said. “It’s just frustrating when you know you have the talent to win and you’re coming up short for whatever reason. Everybody, the coaches and players, we’re doing everything we know to fix it.”
How far that repair job has come will be tested immediately when the Golden Eagles open the season with games against South Carolina and Kansas in the first three weeks.
To compete, Southern Miss has something to prove in each phase of the game.
Is the offense still a threat despite the loss of Damion Fletcher _ one of nine Football Bowl Subdivision running backs to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons _ and four offensive linemen?
Can the defense finally reach expectations after two disappointing years? And what about those extra points? The Golden Eagles missed six last season.
With the defense, nine starters are returning. For many of them, this is their third year, Fedora said.
“They’ve been playing since they were really young. We started with them. I think they totally understand what we’re trying to do,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of plays under their belt now. Experience, there’s probably no substitute for it. Up front will be strength of our defense.”
The Golden Eagles return their entire front seven, including defensive end Cordarro Law and all three starting linebackers _ Williams, Martez Smith and Ronnie Thornton.
Williams says the group played it vanilla the last two years because of youth and the switch to a new defensive system. But no more. He expects the Golden Eagles to finally go on the attack.