Meridian Star

Sports

December 4, 2013

USM breaks losing streak, looks forward

JACKSON —   Southern Mississippi's embarrassing losing streak that stretched more than 700 days, two head coaches and 23 excruciating games is finally history.

    Now comes the hard part: Continuing to improve and regaining relevance in Conference USA.

    The Golden Eagles (1-11 overall, 1-7 CUSA) should carry some momentum into the offseason after Saturday's 62-27 victory over Alabama-Birmingham. It was the program's first win since beating Nevada in the 2011 Hawaii Bowl.

    "Do I think that it alleviates some of the talk in the offseason about a streak? Of course it does," Southern Miss first-year coach Todd Monken said. "Is 1-11 better than 0-12? You bet it is, especially when it's the last one."

    The victory also provides encouragement for Southern Miss because many of the major contributors will be back next season. Freshman quarterback Nick Mullens — who took over the starting job midseason — completed 24 of 39 passes for 370 yards and five touchdowns against the Blazers.

    The Golden Eagles scored a school-record 49 points in the second half to overcome a 21-13 halftime deficit.

    "Momentum is a powerful thing and, as we got that, I felt like our players were playing at a high level," Monken said. "When you're beat up and you're playing youth, you need your guys playing at such a high level to give yourself a chance."

    Monken's first full offseason with the Golden Eagles is undeniably an important one.

    He's encouraged by some of the young players on the roster, but knows the talent level must improve through recruiting. He said the next few months will be spent examining the program from top to bottom.

    After 23 losses in 24 games, nothing is sacred.

    "We've got to find a way to do it better than (opponents) do it," Monken said. "It is hard when you have very few hobbies. You internalize it. You think about how you can do it better, how your program can move forward. It's hard, but you learn."

    Southern Miss first-year athletic director Bill McGillis has been steadfast in his support of Monken. He said Saturday's victory was proof that the former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator is the right person to lead the Golden Eagles' turnaround.

    "It kind of restored hope for a lot of people who are not on the inside," McGillis said. "I have the privilege of being on the inside and seeing the daily improvement. I could see Todd Monken's leadership every day and the work ethic and the attitude. So I knew the day was coming, but I'm excited because now others, who love this university, could see it too."

    Southern Miss certainly has a pedigree of winning, with 18 consecutive winning seasons before the program plummeted to a 0-12 record in 2012 during a disastrous one-year stint under Ellis Johnson.

    But Saturday's win helped erase at least a little of that despair and now the Golden Eagles are focused on being much more competitive in 2014.

    "This is a special place," Monken said. "It has won for a reason. We have a great fan base and an unbelievable school. This is a great place to go to school. It's going to continue to be a special place. We're closer than people think and I'm excited about our future."

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