On Sept. 3, the Golden Eagles walked away from Lexington, Kentucky with a victory over an SEC team for the first time since 2000. The team does seem to have several problems, but at the same time possesses many features.
The Golden Eagles played poorly in the first half of the game, which stemmed from season-opening jitters as well as high expectations. Another reason amounted to the new coaching staff trying to fill big shoes from the prior year’s season.
The biggest question mark was the defense: Had they improved from last season?
After the first half, it was yet to be determined if the defense had made strides. In the end, their performance was almost embarrassing. The secondary seemed to be confused, allowing Kentucky receivers to basically catch anything on them the entire first half allowing 277 passing yards.
On the other side of the ball, the biggest concern was how poor the offensive line played. By the end of the first half, the offensive line had allowed three sacks while letting quarterback Nick Mullens take several hits in the backfield. Kentucky’s ability to get to Mullens played a crucial role in all three of his interceptions.
Mullens was obviously shaken up after the beating he took, which possibly threw him off his game.
“We came out in the second half committed to playing Southern Miss football,” said Head Coach Jay Hopson. Southern Miss football is exactly what occurred.
The second half of the game would be a total reversal from the first. The running back duo of George Payne and Ito Smith took their toll on the defense, accumulating 146 yards total by the end of the second half alone. Mullens settled down, and it seemed the coaches made the right adjustments at halftime.
In the second half, the Golden Eagles simply kept the Kentucky offense off of the field.
Kentucky’s time of possession totaled only 19:28 while Southern Miss’ was nearly double totaling out to 40:32. By keeping the Southern Miss offense on the field it kept momentum going for them. At the same time, it kept the struggling Golden Eagle defense off the field and give them more time to recollect themselves. This also through the Kentucky offense off its rhythm from the first half.
As unstoppable as Kentucky was in the first half, Southern Miss’ offense returned the favor scoring 34 unanswered points in the second half. At the same time the defense completely shutout the Wildcat offense, who in the first half were on track to gain a ridiculous 800 yards of offense.
The ability to stop the run was the decisive game-changer. The defensive line’s ability to slow the run game down the second half made Kentucky’s play calls more obvious. The defense was led by Dylan Bradley, who led the defense totaling seven tackles, two tackles for losses and a forced fumble.