Sheraton Hawaii Bowl: #22 Southern Miss. takes on Nevada

Southern Miss. QB Austin Davis looks to cap a record career with a win over Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl.

Though this probably isn’t the bowl game the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (11-2, 6-2 C-USA) had hoped for after beating the undefeated #6 Houston Cougars for the Conference USA title this season, nonetheless tonight’s match-up against the Nevada Wolfpack (7-5, 5-2 WAC) for the Hawaii Bowl should be a great opportunity for Southern Miss to show off why they should have been considered for a better bowl, and why the BCS formula simply doesn’t work for picking the best teams in the country. However, up against a Wolfpack team that has one of the top defensive squads in their conference with one of the top offenses in the nation behind their unique pistol format, tonight’s match-up should be a great one for College Football fans to watch, with plenty of exciting attributes likely to make for a solid Hawaii Bowl experience this year.

For Southern Miss., tonight’s game starts with a look at their talented quarterback Austin Davis, who leads the Golden Eagles into their 10th straight bowl appearance, and has eclipsed hall-of-famer Bret Favre’s lofty figures put up when he tenured with the Eagles from 1987-90. Having another impressive season with 3331 yards passing and 28 touchdowns, Davis surpassed Favre as the all-time Southern Mississippi leader in total yards (10,727), touchdown passes (81) and overall completion percentage (61.6), and leads a very well balanced offense into tonight’s bowl game match-up. Davis’ star qualities shined especially bright in the Conference USA title game against Houston, racking up 4 touchdowns on 279 yards, but improvements can be made for the senior in passing efficiency tonight, as he threw for completions just 51.5 percent of the time against a very susceptible Houston Cougar secondary. With Nevada’s defense looking pretty stout heading into this match-up led by defensive tackle Brett Roy (10 sacks, 18.5 tackles for loss), allowing just 226 yards/game and pulling down 15 interceptions on the year, it will be key for Austin Davis to get good protection, but also be able to move and throw accurately when inevitably pressured to do so. Davis does have a slew of good receivers to throw to, as Ryan Balentine (49 catches, 742 yards, 8 TDs) and Kelvin Bolden (55 catches, 647 yards, 6 TDs) lead a slew of capable Golden Eagles pass catchers this year, but the focus for the Eagles offense will be on how often Davis can connect to them, and how he limits the number of questionable throws he puts up in the face of a Nevada pressure defense.

Nevada on the other hand certainly doesn’t have the receiving talent that Southern Miss. does, however with their pistol offense producing 251.8 yards on the ground (8th in the FBS), and a decent passing game led by freshman QB Cody Fajardo, you can’t count out the Wolfpack’s well balanced offensive approach to pull them through tight games, even against more talented teams like the Golden Eagles. Fajardo has been excellent at using the short passing game along with keeping opponents guessing with his ability to run the ball. Though Fajardo isn’t much of a threat to throw for TDs (just 6 on the season), with 11 TDs generated on the ground via 680 yards rushing with a 5.7 yards/carry average, he opens up the passing game nicely for the Wolfpack, as he’s constantly a threat to run with the ball and forces defenses to protect the line. That helps him spend more time choosing his receivers from the pocket, as teams have to stay home and avoid committing fully to the pass rush, which is evident in his outstanding 71.4 percent completion rate this season. Against Southern Miss. though, who are 20th in the nation in rush defense behind Jamie Collins and Codarro Law, they are going to have to work in the short passing game and utilize their most talented threat down field in Rishard Matthews (91 catches, 1364 yards, 8 TDs). Matthews is certainly one to watch for tonight, as he will have plenty of mismatches at 6’2″ and 215 lbs. against a small Southern Miss. secondary. Getting him going early and often will certainly help take pressure off the pistol offense attack, which features Lampford Mark (130 carries, 728 yards, 8 TDs) alongside Cody Fajardo, and give the Nevada Wolfpack a chance to operate both sides of their offense which is putting up a whopping 522.8 total yards of offense per contest.

While Nevada has been pretty good at stopping the run, their key area to focus on for defense is in the passing game, which could be their biggest area of weakness against a talented senior quarterback like Austin Davis. Protecting against the big pass play and putting defenders in Davis’ face often will be essential for the Wolfpack, who have struggled to contain elite-level college quarterbacks. If Southern Miss. can find success running the football behind double threat Tracey Lampley (84 carries, 450 yards 3 TDs on the ground; 43 catches, 549 yards, 3 TDs in the air), and freshman mighty-might Jamal Woodyard (6.4 yards/carry, 683 yards), the Wolfpack will find themselves very prone to attacks on their secondary, much like Houston experienced in a frustrating 49-28 loss to the Golden Eagles. For Southern Miss. on defense, simply getting pressure on freshman QB Cody Fajardo will be their main area of focus. Forcing a young quarterback to make decisions under pressure may work to produce turnovers, especially if Fajardo is forced to throw outside the pocket when he can’t find running room against the Eagles’ talented defensive line.

Betting Lines for #22 Southern Mississippi vs. Nevada

Searching for the best NCAA Football odds across some of the best online sportsbooks reviewed here for the Hawaii Bowl match-up, we stop at the newly-built Bovada Sportsbook, which is the new U.S. home for the tried-and-true Bodog Sportsbook Betting platform. With the best odds against the spread and on the money line out of the top sportsbooks found right here, Bovada gets our wager for this solid Hawaii Bowl match-up tonight. Starting with a look on the money line, Southern Miss. is a clear-cut favorite at -275 odds, but with a talented offense like Nevada’s in opposition, the +235 odds for the Wolfpack could be worth biting on, taking the underdog in this match-up. So is the +7 1/2 points given to Nevada against the spread (-115 odds), as it might be a risky proposition taking Southern Miss. in a possible letdown game at -7.5 points (-105 odds). Looking at last to the over/under, a lofty 64 points gets put up as the targeted margin (-105 over, -115 under), but in a game featuring two talented offenses that know how to move the ball downfield quickly, shooting for the over wager at better odds may be the best bet of choice for the over/under.

Our Pick to Win:

While I like Nevada to play a better game than most would expect against a very tough Southern Mississippi team, the veteran leadership of the Golden Eagles behind Austin Davis will be what inevitably makes the difference in tonight’s Hawaii Bowl. While the Wolfpack should give the Golden Eagles struggles with the pistol offense and scrambling quarterback in Cody Fajardo, Southern Miss. has just shown that it fears no offensive formation, and can shut down either the running game or the passing game en route to picking up a victory. With Nevada looking shaky against the pass, Southern Mississippi should use that to their advantage, beating the Wolfpack downfield all night to overcome the spread, and take home some hardware. Southern Miss. prevails over Nevada, 37-28.

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