Offense finds spark to keep bowl eligibility hopes alive

0
1256
Steven Anderson celebrates a touchdown Photo by: Brad Crowe

At the 10:32 mark in the second quarter, quarterback Jack Abraham connected with wide receiver Neil McLaurin for a 49-yard touchdown. McLaurin trucked an LA Tech defender and brought it the end zone for his first career touchdown to give Southern Miss a 14-7 lead against Louisiana Tech.

“I was just focusing on the ball,” McLaurin said. “I was worried about catching the ball. I wasn’t worried about the hit even if it was a big hit. Jack was being Jack tonight. I’m just glad he saw me down the middle and made the huge play.”

The explosive aspect of Southern Miss’ offense returned after missing Abraham for the last two weeks due to injury. Abraham’s passing efficiency was one of the biggest differences in the game as he finished 24-for-29 in the 21-20 win over LA Tech on Saturday.

In addition to Abraham, freshman quarterback Tate Whatley rotated at the position with Abraham at certain points during the game. Whatley proved to be effective at times with the read option, which helped give the ground game a boost. Whatley had just 15 yards on the ground but was 2-for-2 in the passing game, with the two passes coming on the fourth quarter drive that gave Southern Miss the lead. Whatley found wide receiver Quez Watkins for 28-yards and then hit McLaurin on a critical third and four. The effort set up the second of running back’s Steven Anderson’s touchdowns.

“I mean it really it doesn’t affect us now that we have been playing with Tate and Jack,” Anderson said. “Tate comes in he gives you that run, pass option. Jack’s more of a pure drop back. It really doesn’t affect us because we do it all week and we’ve been playing with both of them that’s like the same thing as no drop-offs between quarterbacks when one of them is in.”

While the offense found sparks of production against LA Tech, the offensive line had difficulties giving protection to the quarterbacks and the run game. The team finished with just 55 rushing yards while also allowing LA Tech to record 11 tackles for loss. However, despite the pressure, Abraham felt that the offensive line played well overall, especially against defensive lineman and top NFL prospect Jaylon Ferguson. Ferguson finished the game with 3.5 tackles and two sacks.

“I thought our O-line played awesome,” Abraham said. “They gave me a good four, five, six seconds back there. Facing a guy like Jaylon Ferguson, he’s going to get to you at some point. He’s a great player but I thought our O-line played awesome, they played their tails off. They executed the game plan to the best of their ability.”

While the offensive line had struggles, the Southern Miss defense had another strong performance. The unit held LA Tech to just 68 rushing yards and had a total of six tackles for loss and six pass breakups.

LA Tech outgained Southern Miss in total yards 311-280 and recorded one turnover against the Golden Eagles, but Southern Miss controlled many aspects of the game in the fourth quarter. The Golden Eagles controlled the time of possession 11:25 to 3:35 in the quarter and LA Tech only ran 12 plays. The Bulldogs also missed a 29-yard field goal in the third quarter, which naturally kept points off the board for the Bulldogs.

“We knew we couldn’t get bowl eligible if we didn’t win this one and the next one too,” Anderson said. “So we knew that all week and I was glad that we were able to pick up the win.”

For Southern Miss, it’s the fourth year in a row that the Golden Eagles have emerged victorious against LA Tech. The win keeps Southern Miss’ bowl eligibility hopes alive as it gives the team a 5-5 record overall.

Southern Miss will play 1-9 UTEP on the road to close out the season on Nov. 24.