On Oct. 29, Southern Miss came into homecoming looking to bounce back from their two-game road skid, losing to LSU and Texas-San Antonio in back-to-back. Both Marshall and Southern Miss play with nearly parallel styles, each having a high-scoring offense and a struggling defense. However, the game was a defensive stalemate.
The Golden Eagle offense showed aggression early after the team converted a fourth down on its first drive. Despite aggressive passing plays on the first drive of the game, the running game was led by Ito Smith, who ended the night with 189 total yards and punched in the first points of the game. Yet, the fast start would be slowed by the defensive battle between the two teams.
“Ito [Smith] is a guy that turns something into [anything],” said Head Coach Jay Hopson. “He is that guy that can run inside, outside, pass protect, gets it out of the backfield [and] is a multitalented back.”
The Golden Eagle defense held Marshall to just a touchdown in the first half. However, Marshall’s punter, Kaare Vedvik, kept the Golden Eagle offense at bay. Vedvik pinned them inside the Golden Eagle five-yard line with a 72-yard punt. This cycle would continue for the majority of the first half with Southern Miss remaining within their 20-yard line.
In the final seconds of the first quarter, Chase Whitehead temporarily broke the stalemate by snagging a 25- yard pass.
Yet, the Golden Eagles wasted an opportunity that yielded great field position and were forced to kick a field goal. Parker Shaunfield hit on a 44-yard field goal, putting the Golden Eagles up 10-0. Marshall answered the touchdown when the Golden Eagles’ secondary had a breakdown, leading to running back Keion Davis punching in a touchdown making the score 10-7.
On the first play of the following Golden Eagle drive, Ito Smith broke out a 15-yard run to try and answer the Marshall touchdown, but it would be another wasted opportunity as the offensive line began to fail at protecting quarterback Nick Mullens who would get sacked to end that drive. The Golden Eagles made a key defensive stand at the Marshall 45-yard line which seemed to show shift in the tide of the battle.
The Golden Eagles began to drive from their five-yard live with less than three minutes left in the half. Nick Mullens would connect with Julian Allen who would be off to the races before being caught at the Marshall 44- yard line making it a 52-yard snag.
Another offensive line mistake ended the drive with Mullens getting hit and fumbling the ball stopping all hopes of scoring before the end of the half.
The second half began almost parallel to the first half, with the defensive stalemate continuing and Vedvik keeping the Golden Eagle offense unproductive. Southern Miss would develop another drive but the offensive line would again have problems with Mullens having more pressure being put on him.
Shaunfield would attempt a 41-yard field goal but would miss his first field goal of the season but would again compile to another missed opportunity. Again, the defense made another stand with a sack made by Dylan Bradley stopping another Marshall drive. Neither team found any opportunities and kept the 3rd quarter at 10-7.
After two scoreless quarters the Golden Eagles finally found some light and started the 4th quarter with a touchdown with Mullens firing his lone touchdown of the night finding Allenzae Staggers for a four-yard touchdown pass giving the Golden Eagles a two possession lead at 17-7. Notably, Mullens would go on to break the school all-time passing record by the end of the night.
“It was an honor to break it but I was just happy to get the win” Mullens said.
Marshall attempted a late rally with a field goal attempt but the senior defensive lineman Dylan Bradley blocked the kick killing the potential Marshall comeback. Smith broke out a 40-yard run putting the nail in the coffin for Marshall. Despite a late Marshall touchdown the Golden Eagles left homecoming with a 24-14 win.
“He is all about the next game, his mindset is to beat Marshall, his mindset is to win the conference championship,” said defensive lineman Dylan Bradley. “I’m proud of him.”