Sometimes numbers do lie, especially when it comes to final scores of football games. Southern Miss’ road contest against North Texas will go down in the books as a 30-7 defeat, a number that might have seemed cringe-worthy to those who scrolled by it on their score apps while enjoying the state fair or attending the obligatory family wedding of a cousin they only talk to on Thanksgiving and Christmas. But I contend that—when taken into proper context—the game was much closer than what meets the eye, and the Golden Eagles were a handful of properly executed plays away from stealing a win over one of the best teams in Conference USA.
Some of you may think I sound deranged, so I’ll begin by pointing out a few key statistics. Jack Abraham continued to impress with another very efficient outing, completing 69 percent of his throws for 318 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He showed the willingness and ability to make plays downfield, completing three passes for more than 30 yards. Sophomore Quez Watkins caught seven passes for 109 yards and a score, and junior Jordan Mitchell posted career highs with 12 catches for 135 yards.
Even the Golden Eagles’ heavily-scrutinized running game showed signs of life with a greater emphasis on feeding freshman Trivenskey Mosley, who carried the rock 11 times for 73 yards. Southern Miss totaled 367 yards of offense, the second best offensive performance the Mean Green has faced all season.
“Those are fair points, Brad, but how does a team rack up nearly 400 yards of offense and only score seven points?” To answer that, we’ll need to break down the aforementioned handful of game-changing plays.
The first of these plays occurred midway through the first quarter. Abraham was firing on all cylinders early on, having completed eight of his first 10 passes for 95 yards and hitting Quez Watkins for a 45-yard gain to the North Texas 36-yard line. A breakdown in protection on two of the three ensuing plays resulted in a loss of yardage and a sack for Abraham. Redshirt sophomore punter Zac Everett reluctantly punted away not only the ball, but all the Golden Eagles’ momentum along with it. North Texas’ offense channeled that energy to string together an eight-play, 99-yard touchdown drive to take the lead early in the second quarter.
The second largest blow of the day came on the first drive of the second half. Mosley raced for 33 yards on the second play, bringing the Golden Eagles deep into enemy territory with an opportunity to tie the game with a field goal or even take the lead with a touchdown. Unfortunately, this drive ended with a missed 45-yard field goal attempt by Parker Shaunfield, the shortest missed kick of the season for the redshirt senior, who has routinely succeeded from that distance. Southern Miss again found itself on the wrong end of a game-defining momentum swing, yet still remained within striking distance of the lead with plenty of time left on the clock.
Then there was the big one: the most devastating blow to Head Coach Jay Hopson’s chances of returning to Hattiesburg with a victory. After a defensive stand and forced punt by the Southern Miss defense, Abraham connected with Mitchell for a 40-yard reception that speared the unit’s deepest drive into North Texas territory to the eight-yard line, roughly spitting distance from claiming their first lead of the day. Abraham checked down to Mosley for a short gain, but as he started to turn upfield, North Texas safety Khairi Muhammad stripped the ball right out of Mosley’s hands. This was Southern Miss’ second turnover of the game and its third trip inside the 40 without a single point to show for it. The mishap created a tidal wave of momentum that fueled three late touchdown drives for North Texas against a tiring Southern Miss defense.
Consequently, Southern Miss’ trip to Denton, Texas regressed from an opportunity for a statement win to a lopsided loss to a 6-1 conference opponent. In the aftermath, many will inevitably view the final score, along with the team’s 2-3 overall record, and assume the Golden Eagles are en route to a disappointing season. However, the “glass half full” fans who take the time to look beyond the surface will realize that things are nowhere near as bad as they seem.
Abraham has shown potential to become the program’s next great quarterback, and the young playmakers on offense are getting better each week as they gain valuable playing experience.
With the toughest stretch of the schedule behind them, Southern Miss will now return home for a game looking to reassert themselves among the top contenders in the C-USA West. So don’t give up on the Golden Eagles. Pieces are coming together for a team that is still very capable of winning a lot of football games.