Southern Miss (2-1, 1-0 C-USA) claimed their second home win of the season on Saturday night with a 40-22 victory over the Rice Owls (1-3, 0-1 C-USA) to open conference play.
Despite a shaky start in the first quarter, the Golden Eagles put together a solid performance on both sides of the ball and regained a lot of the momentum that was lost two weeks ago during the team’s 21-20 defeat against Louisiana-Monroe.
“It’s always good to start conference play off with a win,” Southern Miss Head Coach Jay Hopson said after the game. “That’s important for us. This is a good win, and I’m just excited to build a little momentum.”
The first impact play of the game came from wide receiver De’Michael Harris in the first quarter. The junior caught a shovel pass from sophomore quarterback Jack Abraham and dashed 74 yards down the left sideline before being tackled inside the five-yard line. According to Harris, this was the first instance in his football career of him being chased down by an opposing defender.
“My dad is outside waiting on me now,” Harris said with a laugh during the press conference. “I saw him in the stands, and he just had this look of disappointment. I just ran out of gas, but no excuses. I’ll make up for it next week.”
The Golden Eagles’ defense made an impact play of their own on the following drive with an interception by junior cornerback Ty Williams, the first of his career at Southern Miss. Just one snap later, Jack Abraham found Quez Watkins in the corner of the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown pass to expand the lead to 10-0. The Owls responded on the ensuing drive with their biggest play of the night: a 62-yard touchdown run by Austin Walter and a two-point conversion to narrow the gap to just two points going into the second quarter.
Southern Miss’ running backs highlighted the second quarter of play with two touchdowns: one on a 14-yard reception by senior Tez Parks and the other on a one-yard push by redshirt freshman Steven Anderson for his first collegiate score. Finding success in the backfield has been a point of emphasis after lackluster performances in the first two games, and the group’s contributions tonight certainly did not go unnoticed by their quarterback.
“It makes my job a lot easier,” Abraham said. “When we can trust the o-line and the running backs to get us three or four yards per carry, it makes the second and shorts and third and shorts a lot easier to convert. I thought Steven, Tez and Trivenskey all played great tonight.”
The Golden Eagles found momentum in the third quarter with three straight defensive stops and three straight scoring drives by the offense, resulting in a 34-15 advantage for the team. Abraham capped off his career performance with a fourth touchdown pass of the night on a 21-yard connection to Tim Jones to claim a 40-15 lead early in the fourth quarter. Abraham finished the game with 25 completions on 34 attempts for 428 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, becoming just the sixth quarterback in Southern Miss history to pass for over 400 yards in a single game.
“We were just taking what they were giving us,” Abraham said. “I thought we were firing on all cylinders. We executed on the short tosses and then opened it up and threw the ball downfield. You know, tonight was a pretty good night for sure.”
Though they surrendered 22 points, the Golden Eagles defense held the Owls offense to 125 yards passing and 139 yards rushing in the contest – 62 of which came on the big run by Walter in the first quarter. The Southern Miss defensive unit won the turnover battle with interceptions by Williams and sophomore Rachaun Mitchell that helped swing momentum their way and pull away with the lead.
“The emphasis we had tonight was to play hard, play fast, and be passionate about the game,” senior linebacker Jeremy Sangster said. “Once a player makes a play, you go tap him on the butt and say good job and be encouraging, and I think we did a good job of that tonight. We played as a unit, as a group and as brothers, and we got the win.”
Now with a 2-1 record through one month of the regular season, the Golden Eagles will start preparing for next Saturday’s road game against a traditional SEC powerhouse, the No. 9 ranked Auburn Tigers. Kickoff is set for 3:00 p.m. at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Check out the photo gallery from the game: http://www.studentprintz.com/southern-miss-vs-rice-photo-gallery/