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USM hosts Rice tonight

Southern Miss and Rice played ambitious nonconference schedules this year and have the bruises to prove it.

Injuries are the dominant story line as the Conference USA opponents play a rare Wednesday night game on ESPN2. Who will start at quarterback for Southern Miss will remain a mystery until the game starts after No. 2 Stephen Reaves pulled a muscle.

Coach Jeff Bower said he’s leaning toward starting Martevious Young, a redshirt freshman who is projected to be the starter after seniors Reaves and injured original starter Jeremy Young complete their eligibility. Bower thinks his likely starter is ready.

“He has really improved and has got a lot better,” Bower said of Martevious Young, no relation to Jeremy Young. “He has always had a good arm, but mentally he is just so much better. He makes a lot better decisions with the ball.”

Reaves was expected to play for the Golden Eagles (2-2, 1-0 Conference USA) after Jeremy Young sprained his ankle in last Thursday’s loss at Boise State. But Reaves pulled an oblique muscle in his abdomen over the weekend and missed practices during the six-day preparation time for winless Rice (0-4, 0-0).

Bower has not changed the team’s game plan and Martevious Young said he has a good grasp on the offense.

“I got some reps in the spring and preseason or I might not be ready,” he said. “When I get under those lights I might be a little nervous, but I think that will pass pretty quickly.”

Rice also has injury issues. The Owls will be without starting defensive ends Dietrich Davis and Scott Solomon, though wide receiver Jarett Dillard will be back after pulling a hamstring against Texas. Dillard caught 21 touchdown passes last season and presents the biggest challenge for the Southern Miss defense, which has been vulnerable to big plays at times.

“He is a great player who is a leaper and has great ball skills,” Bower said. “He really gets your attention. I don’t think anyone has slowed him down so he is going to get his catches.”

Even though this is the first meeting between Rice and Southern Miss, first-year Owls coach David Bailiff has made the trip to Hattiesburg before as an assistant at Texas Christian.

Bailiff said Rice, outscored 159-55 in losses to Baylor, Texas Tech and Texas, shouldn’t expect much of a change in talent against Southern Miss.

“I actually think Southern Miss is up there with them,” Bailiff said. “I don’t think the talent drop off will be that significant from Texas Tech or Baylor. They may not be quite as fast as Texas, but they’re very talented.”