HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Bill Legg knows what Southern Mississippi is going through, for his Marshall offense was in the same boat two seasons ago.
The Thundering Herd didn't carry the albatross of a marathon losing streak - shoot, the team won a bowl game in that 2011 season. But Legg operated with a true freshman at quarterback who didn't have the benefit of sneaking onto campus early and getting a spring season under his belt.
Rakeem Cato started most of that season and required closer guidance. Such is the case at Southern Miss, which started true freshman Nick Mullens under center for the first time last week.
Mullens and the Golden Eagles (0-7 overall, 0-3 Conference USA) carry their 19-game losing streak into Joan C. Edwards Stadium for a noon game Saturday against Marshall (4-3, 2-1). CBS Sports Network is airing the contest.
Legg remembered what it was like to bring Cato along from scratch - for one thing, that hyper-tempo offense the Herd now runs was shelved until the spring. He knows what TCU coach Todd Monken and his offensive coordinator, Marcus Arroyo, are going through.
"You have to manage the game for [a young quarterback]," Legg said. "You can't put in him situations. You've got to turn him into a game manager, not put him in situations where he has to win the game for you. But he just takes advantage of some things they give.
"You've got to be able to run the football well when you're in that situation. The problem we had, Cato was young but so was a lot of younger guys, so we weren't as consistent running the football as we would have liked, but our defense played well. We played great special teams, we played great defense and we didn't turn the football over - except there were two games that really hurt us from a turnover standpoint.
"The rest of them, we did a pretty good job of managing that, and [Cato] did a good job of managing the game."
That's what is expected of Mullens, a pure pocket passer who if nothing else showed a strong arm last week against North Texas. He threw an early touchdown pass, a nice 59-yard shot to Dominique Sullivan.
But the rest of the first half was difficult, to put it mildly. The Eagles suffered four three-and-outs, and Mullens threw a late interception that the Mean Green turned into a 24-yard TD drive and a 41-7 halftime lead.
In a cruel coincidence, Southern Miss lost that game by the same 55-14 score as East Carolina rung up the previous week on the Eagles. Mullens went 12 of 31 for 210 yards, three interceptions and four sacks, the latter contributing to the Eagles being held to 39 yards rushing. They went three-and-out six times and ran only 52 scrimmage plays.
But Mullens kept his wits intact, by his coach's account.
"I think he's got tremendous mental toughness," Monken said. "He's a smart player. I think he's accurate. I think he's got leadership qualities and I think we've done a good job of just talking about the next play. We're building."