HATTIESBURG, Miss. – It's a nightmare that refuses to end for Southern Mississippi.
The once-proud football program has now lost 17 straight games — a dubious streak that's currently the longest in the Football Bowl Subdivision and spanned more than 650 days and two head coaches.
The low point might have been the most recent loss on Oct. 5, when the Golden Eagles lost 24-23 to a Florida International team that was also looking for its first win. Southern Miss (0-5, 0-1 Conference USA) had a potential game-winning field goal blocked as time expired.
That deflating loss was followed by an off week, and now the Golden Eagles are preparing to face East Carolina (4-2, 2-1) on Saturday in Greenville, N.C.
First-year coach Todd Monken — who has a reputation for brutal honesty when describing his team's troubles — said there are no quick fixes.
"We obviously don't have the market cornered on doing things well right now," Monken said. "We're working toward that. I think that you'll see some guys rotating in (against East Carolina) that we're trying to give opportunities to and have earned it. But we only have so many players. Otherwise, they would have already been playing."
This season's troubles can be attributed to ineptitude, but also a nasty schedule. The Golden Eagles had a three-game road stretch against Nebraska, Arkansas and Boise State, which all ended in lopsided losses.
But there were also two home losses to Texas State and Florida International. Those are the kinds of programs Southern Miss once dominated.
The Golden Eagles won a C-USA championship in 2011 by beating the Houston Cougars, who were coached by Kevin Sumlin and led by quarterback Case Keenum. Southern Miss finished with a No. 20 national ranking, 12-2 record and won the Hawaii Bowl over Nevada.
But then coach Larry Fedora left for North Carolina, and it's been a freefall ever since.
Monken replaced Ellis Johnson, who had one disastrous 0-12 season in 2012. Southern Miss hoped Monken's pedigree as the offensive coordinator at high-scoring Oklahoma State would lead to a quick turnaround, but it hasn't happened.
Monken said he's still confident the team hasn't lost hope.
"Is it frustrating? Of course it is," Monken said. "Is it frustrating for our staff? You bet it is. But the energy level and the attitude and the body language have been fine. We've just got to figure out a way to do it better, starting with myself and our coaching staff. That's what we're paid to do and that's what we aim to do starting this week and moving forward."
The main issue for Southern Miss has been turnovers. Allan Bridgford has thrown for a respectable 1,118 yards this season, but has six touchdowns passes and 11 interceptions. Overall, the Golden Eagles have 19 turnovers while forcing just six.
But there are other problems. The defense is giving up 37.2 points per game while the running game is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry and hasn't made it into the end zone this season.
Sophomore Jalen Richard, who is second on the team with 194 yards rushing, said the bye week has given the Golden Eagles some time to make adjustments.
"We can win out and still go to a bowl game — that's our motivation," Richard said. "It's a little mental with us now. We've got the players. We had the players last year. You want to say we're playing young guys, and maybe that's the problem, but we've just got to stay dialed in to the little things and produce. Little things are killing us right now."
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