Golden Eagles get a boost from Harris's return to tailback

Updated: October 31, 2003, 2:17 PM ET

HATTIEBSURG, Miss. -- The feature tailback that Southern Mississippi had been looking for during the first half of the season was in the Golden Eagles' backfield all along.

Injuries and a suspension prompted Southern Miss to move fullback Anthony Harris back to tailback last week. He responded with the best rushing game USM has had this season.

Harris ran for 102 yards and a touchdown in the 27-6 victory over South Florida.

For his effort, Harris will keep the job and start Saturday when Southern Miss (4-3) plays Louisiana-Lafayette (2-7) for homecoming.

The Golden Eagles have won six straight against the Ragin' Cajuns, the last three by a combined 138-10.

Harris was the team's second-leading rusher last season, but was moved to fullback this season when offensive coordinator Rip Scherer implemented a two-back system.

Harris wasn't thrilled about the move and even thought about leaving the team.

"When they moved me to fullback, other players were asking me why, but I just said that I had to help the team," he said. "When I got the chance, I wanted to let everyone know that I could play tailback."

James Walley's ankle injury and the suspension of Timmy Blackwell opened the door for Harris. Walley is still out. Blackwell has been reinstated, but he will be a third-teamer until further notice.

Harris' big game was part of Southern Mississippi's best offensive outing of the season.

The Golden Eagles' offense has slogged along for most of the season, getting little production from its quarterbacks and tailbacks.

Harris took care of the running and Dustin Almond had his best outing of the season at quarterback.

Almond, one of three quarterbacks to start this season for the Golden Eagles, threw for 175 yards and two touchdowns as Southern Miss hit season highs for points and yards (337) against South Florida.

Southern Miss offensive coordinator Rip Scherer was happy with the progress, but not satisfied.

"We're far from good," Scherer said. "We're better, but not to be confused with where we want to be."

The Golden Eagles should get closer to where they want to be against Louisiana-Lafayette.

The Ragin' Cajuns are last in the Sun Belt Conference in total defense, allowing 445 yards per game, though two straight wins have bolstered their confidence.

A fast start against Southern Miss is key to capitalize on the momentum, defensive coordinator Brent Pry said.

"We need to make a play or two. We need to challenge them have a couple of 3-and-outs, or make a play that can turn the tide like we did against Idaho," he said. "We want to continue to build on that confidence. Even when things have been tough this year, we've been able to regroup, line up again and go after them. They're able to fight and claw back in it."

This is the Golden Eagles' last game outside of Conference USA, where they are unbeaten.

They're hoping a comfortable homecoming win will prepare them for the stretch run.

"This win could move us closer to being bowl eligible," safety Etric Pruitt said. "It could be a confidence booster in that sense. It could also be a spring board for both our offense and our defense if we do well. Maybe that could carry on for the next four games."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index