- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 19, 2009

JACKSON, Miss. | It’s pretty hard to lure a BCS conference team to Hattiesburg, but when Southern Miss brings one of the big boys down, there are better than even odds of an upset.

There’s a different feel this year as Virginia ventures south for Saturday’s game, though. The Cavaliers, it turns out, have a lot more to prove than Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles are off to a hot start with some gaudy statistics. Virginia has already lost twice, including a humbling defeat to Football Championship Subdivision squad William & Mary.

Fans even booed the home team during a loss to TCU last week. A win on the road could help take some of the pressure off, and coach Al Groh isn’t ready to write 2009 off.

“You know, there’s a lot of story to be played out in the course of this season — who is distracted, who is undistracted, who is focused, who is not focused, who is confident, who is not confident,” Groh said. “These seasons are books. They are not chapters.”

Some wondered aloud this week if the Cavaliers wouldn’t be better off on the road, but anyone expecting respite in Hattiesburg is likely to be disappointed. The Golden Eagles couldn’t be hotter. They’ve won seven straight, are among the national leaders on both offense and defense and expect a near capacity crowd.

“I feel like we play better the more fans we got,” linebacker Korey Williams said. “The fans are our motivation. The louder the crowd is on third down, the bigger the hits. That’s the way I look at it.”

Southern Miss is 3-2 in home games against BCS conference opponents since 2001. The last big conference school in town was N.C. State, which fell 37-17 in 2006. Several Southern Miss seniors and redshirt juniors were a party to that win, including tailback Damion Fletcher, who rushed for 177 yards and three touchdowns.

Defensive back C.J. Bailey dressed for the game but didn’t play. Yet it was still one of the highlights of his career, and one he hopes to repeat.

“Every game is interesting around here, but when a big-time school comes in here, it does enliven the atmosphere,” he said. “It was a great experience. I’ll never forget, just to see the excitement of the fans and the feelings of the players to win that N.C. State game.”

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