USM Season Opener
USM opens the season with a loss
With the loss, Southern Miss now leads the all-time series against in-state rival Mississippi State 14-13-1. After 24 years, the Bulldogs and Golden Eagles battle was reignited.
It took a while for the Southern Miss defense to get settled in. MSU got the ball first on their own 13-yard line and in nine plays marched 87 yards for their first touchdown of the night.
The touchdown came with MSU quarterback Dak Prescott in the shotgun formation. When he received the snap, he looked off safety Emmanuel Johnson which opened up his receiver, De’Runnya Wilson, running a skinny post up the middle of the field. The connection gave MSU a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter.
On USM’s opening drive, sophomore quarterback Nick Mullens was looking for Jalen Richard on a screen pass, but his pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and fell into the hands of Preston Smith and was returned to the USM four yard line
The Golden Eagle defense had their backs against the wall with MSU starting on the four yard line. The defense bowed up and came up with a goal line stand stopping MSU running back Josh Robinson just short of the end zone on fourth down, the offense could not use the momentum as they went three and out on their next possession.
After going three-and-out on their first three drives, USM picked up its first first down of the night with 2:52 left in the quarter, when Mullens found Richard for 12 yards on a wheel route out the back field. After gaining another first down, the offense looked comfortable and was driving down field, but the drive was short lived.
Mullens found Markese Triplett on a crossing route in the middle of the field for 16 yards. As Triplett was fighting for extra yards, MSU safety Zach Jackson stripped the ball and teammate A.J. Jefferson recovered for MSU.
MSU found its groove in the second quarter as USM continued to struggle. After a Southern Miss punt, MSU got the ball with great field position and made it count, capping the seven play drive with a one yard touchdown run by Nick Griffin. On the ensuing possession, Southern Miss could not find any room to move the ball on offense going three and out again.
On the Bulldogs’ next drive, the USM defense stepped up once again in the red zone. With Prescott moving his offense down the field, completing passes to Joe Morrow and Gabe Myles, the Golden Eagles again found themselves with their heels on the goal line.
This time Prescott tried to take advantage of his receiver being 6’3 but his goal line fade pass was intercepted in the end zone for a touchback by Kalan Reed. Prescott rebounded shortly after and found Fred Ross streaking wide open on the left sideline for a touchdown giving them a 28-0 halftime lead. The USM defense held MSU to just one red zone score out of four chances, but struggled to stop the big play.
Nick Mullens continued to feel pressure on the opening drive of the second half as USM went three-and-out. On MSU’s opening drive of the second half, Prescott found his main deep threat Wilson for a 24-yard touchdown pushing the lead to 35-0. This would be the last drive for the Bulldogs’ starters.
MSU’s next score came on a blocked 30-yard field goal attempt as MSU safety Preston Smith was off to the races after picking up the loose ball. Backup quarterback Damian Williams would later find Ross for a 21-yard touchdown strike to give MSU the lead 49-0.
Prescott set career-highs in passing yards with 284 and passing touchdowns with 4.
Freshman running back Ito Smith lead USM with 43 yards on 13 carries. In his first game, Smith knows there is room for improvement. “We just have to keep moving forward and get better as an offense.” Smith said following the game.
Mullens finished with 212 yards, completing 20-42 passes and two picks. He struggled in lathe part due to the Bulldogs’ front getting consistent pressure.
“I thought for the most part Nick played well,” said head coach Todd Monken. “He’s still not an experienced player and we need to rep things more to make sure he understands where to go with the ball and we have got to run the ball better, bottom line.” Monken said. “I like the way we play, we just have to do it better.”
Southern Miss will look to show their improvements as they host Alcorn State in The Rock Sept. 6 at 6 pm.