By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
A year ago, Southern Miss was in the middle of a journey that would end with a Conference USA championship, a bowl victory and a Top 25 national ranking.
You know, the kinds of things folks in Hattiesburg, Miss., are used to.
Things have not been quite so memorable in 2012.
The Golden Eagles are 0-6 under first-year coach Ellis Johnson. Coach Larry Fedora went to North Carolina, and several of the team’s top players are also gone.
To their credit, it’s not as if the Eagles have been playing a bunch of prep schools. Among the teams to have beaten Southern Miss this season are Nebraska, Louisville and Boise State — all Top 25 teams.
As far as Conference USA goes, the Eagles have lost to perennial title contenders East Carolina and Central Florida.
Up next for Southern Miss is high-octane Marshall (2-4, 1-1 C-USA), which will invade The Rock at 7 p.m. Eastern time Saturday. The game will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network.
Johnson, who had multiple stops as an assistant in the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences before going to Southern Miss, acknowledges his players are frustrated. Some, such as senior wide receiver Tracey Lampley, are not accustomed to being winless halfway through a season.
That doesn’t mean, however, that their competitive fire has fanned out.
“They are always fired up in the locker room before a game,” Johnson said. “That’s just how they are as competitors. Every week they’ve come back — there’s a bit of pouting, a little frustration, just like anybody would be going through what we’ve been through — but there hasn’t been any attitudes or give-up.”
Three quarterbacks have two starts each, leaving the Eagles way behind the days of former signal caller Austin Davis. True freshman Anthony Alford has seen the most action of late, including last Saturday’s 38-31 loss at Central Florida in double overtime.
Alford scored on a 2-yard run in the first overtime, but was intercepted on the first play of Southern Miss’ second drive to end the game.
“It was a route that we really thought we were getting a three-deep (defensive look) and they rolled to a two-deep,” Johnson explained. “When they do that, the receiver has to bend it underneath, and just as he cleared the linebacker, (Alford) tried to hit the receiver between the linebacker and the safety, and it was just a high throw.”
Johnson said Alford took it hard, but will learn from the play, just as he has the whole season.
“His confidence in running the football team has always been there,” Johnson said. “I think his confidence on some of his reads in the passing game have been very cautious. ... He was real devastated (after the UCF game) — he’s a competitor. But I think he’s come out of this game with some confidence.”
— E-mail: gfauber@