Southern Miss showed they were capable of competing in Conference USA this season, but they made too many mistakes against Rice, losing 41-23.
Earlier in the week, Southern Miss head coach Todd Monken talked about what wins football games on a week-to-week basis. That formula included winning the turnover battle, having explosive plays and limiting the opponent’s explosive plays. While USM was right there with Rice with total yardage, first downs and time of possession, they lost in the all three of Monken’s keys to winning.
What ultimately held back the Golden Eagles was making huge mistakes in crucial moments. There were too many dropped passes on third downs, unnecessary penalties and ill-advised mental mistakes.
The biggest mistakes of the game came late in the second quarter. With just under three minutes left in the half, USM trailed 17-10, but Nick Mullens was intercepted by Garrett Fuhrman, leading to a Rice field goal shortly after.
USM started their next possession with 1:20 remaining in the half and marched down to the Rice 22-yard line with a chance to make it a one possession game with a field goal. However, there was a bad snap on the field goal, forcing holder and punter Tyler Sarrazin to try to make something out of nothing with the time expiring. He ended up heaving the ball toward the end zone, but his pass was intercepted, ending the half.
Another aspect that hampered USM was their lack of balance offensively. They continued to struggle running the ball, averaging under two yards per carry. George Payne led the team with 40 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown.
The stat sheet shows that Mullens played well, but he missed a few easy throws on crucial third downs and the interception late in the first half should haunt him. He completed 24-45 passing attempts for 283 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, Picasso Nelson Jr. and Dasman McCullum led the way. Nelson had an interception that he returned for 45 yards and McCullum had several big plays in the backfield.
Southern Miss is going to have to clean up the mental mistakes and start winning the turnover battle if they want to win a few conference games this season.