Penalties and a stout Tennessee defense proved to be too much for the Southern Miss football team to overcome on Saturday night, dropping the contest against the non-conference opponent, 24-10.
Defensively, Tennessee kept Southern Miss’ offense in check for most of the contest, forcing two turnovers and holding running back Ito Smith to just 51 yards on the ground. The Golden Eagles also struggled to convert third downs against the Volunteer defense, converting just 7-of-20 third down opportunities on the night.
The Volunteers put points on the board on the first possession of the game. After a 46-yard opening kickoff return, Tennessee freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano led his team to the end zone in nine plays, culminating in a three- yard quarterback keeper to give Tennessee the early 7-0 lead.
Kicker Parker Shaunfield put the Golden Eagles on the board with 8:16 in the second quarter with a 27-yard field goal, narrowing the deficit with a 7-3 score. However, Tennessee responded with a 38-yard field goal on the very next drive to make the score 10-3 heading into halftime.
The Southern Miss defense made several stops at the end of the second quarter and start of the third quarter. However, quarterback Keon Howard’s interception with 7:55 to play in the quarter set up a 20-yard touchdown for Tennessee running back John Kelly on the very next play, extending Tennessee’s lead to 17-3. Howard’s fumble on the Golden Eagles’ next offensive drive set up another Kelly touchdown, giving the Volunteers a 24-3 lead with 3:17 to play in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Howard was replaced with junior quarterback Kwadra Griggs in an attempt to give the Golden Eagles an offensive spark. Griggs immediately led the team down the field 90 yards in 10 plays, scoring on a one-yard quarterback keeper with 6:45 left in the game. Unfortunately, a turnover on downs on the next drive sealed the 24-10 loss for Southern Miss.
“The turnovers really killed us right there,” Head Coach Jay Hopson said. “That was a really tough thing for us to overcome.”
Howard left the contest having completed 7-of-22 passes for 161 yards and an interception. Griggs finished the game with 61 yards through the air, completing 6-of-11 passes in the process.
Overall, penalties were a cause for concern for Southern Miss during the entire contest. At the end of the first half, the team had committed eight penalties for 75 yards. The team committed 14 penalties for 120 yards, compared to just two penalties for Tennessee.
The most notable penalty of the night came near the end of the third quarter. During a Tennessee field goal attempt at the 3:21 mark in the third quarter, a questionable leaping penalty was called on Southern Miss, giving Tennessee an automatic first down. A furious Hopson was flagged immediately following the call for unsportsmanlike conduct after he ran on the field to argue the leaping call with the officials, paving the way for Kelly’s second touchdown on the night.
Next up for the Golden Eagles is another road contest against a 1-8 Rice squad. Kickoff in Houston is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 11.