Southern Miss (2-1) exploded offensively Saturday night, beating Texas State (1-2) 56-50 in a shootout of epic proportions.
Jalen Richard and Nick Mullens were the stars of the game for the Golden Eagles, combining for eight touchdowns. Richard had two rushing touchdowns of over 50 yards, a 53-yarder and a 64-yarder on his way to 230 yards on 27 carries.
Mullens was equally impressive, completing 19 of his 27 attempts for 333 yards and four touchdowns. Throughout the game, he was prepared, poised and extremely accurate.
On the opening possession, Mullens hit D.J. Thompson for a 23-yard touchdown and on their next possession, Jordan Mitchell caught his first career touchdown for 19 yards to take an early 14-3 lead.
To start the second quarter, Richard powered his way for a 1-yard touchdown to cap off a 13 play, 65 yard drive to extend the lead to 21-3. However, the Bobcats owned the rest of the second quarter.
Tyler Jones got the Texas State offense going with a 35-yard scamper to cut the USM lead to 21-10. After a Southern Miss punt, Jones capped off an impressive drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Lawrence White before hitting Robert Lowe on the 2-point conversion to cut the lead to three.
With just over a minute remaining in the first half, Trey McGowan forced Ito Smith to fumble, giving Texas State a short field. Facing a third and 19 after a holding penalty, Jones threw a deep out to Demun Mercer that Kalan Reed tipped, but fell into Mercer’s arms for a 32-yard touchdown. Despite a hot start offensively, the Golden Eagles went into the half trailing 25-20.
On their opening possession of the second half, Mullens connected with Casey Martin for a 4-yard touchdown, set up by a 30-yard catch by Mitchell. Richard then extended the USM lead to 35-25 with a 3-yard plunge up the middle.
The Bobcats were able to cut the lead to seven with a field goal, but then Richard completely took over the game. After Mullens delivered a big time throw on third down to extend the drive, Richard exploded through the line untouched on his way to the end zone for a 42-28 lead.
On the Bobcats’ ensuing possession, Dylan Bradley continued his great start to the season, sacking Jones to force the punt. Facing a tough third down, Mullens hit Martin in stride on a slant. Martin proceeded to split the safeties, accelerating through the second level of the defense for a 50-yard touchdown.
Despite a comfortable 49-28 lead, the Southern Miss defense started to leak some oil, allowing Jones and Texas State to start a comeback. Lowe capped off a 14-play, 84-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown.
Lumi Kaba then executed a perfect onside kick that gave the Texas State sideline some much against the resurgent Bobcats, needed life. On the first play of the drive, Jones turned on the jets on a quarterback draw, scoring from 54 yards out to cut the USM lead to 49-42.
With their backs against the wall USM desperately needed a big play to take back control of the game. Once again, Richard answered the call.
Richard took a handoff off tackle that appeared to be bottled up behind the line. But he made a beautiful jump cut to the outside to elude a Bobcat defender, then cut back to the middle of the field, turned on the jets for his second long touchdown and fourth touchdown of the game.
“Coming out of halftime, (running backs) coach Simon got in my ear and said, ‘Just hit it.’ He said I hadn’t been hitting (the hole) like I was supposed to. So coming into the second half, that’s what I did. I trusted my blocks, put my head down, hit it and it started opening up.” – Richard
Texas State attempted to get back in the game, but the Golden Eagle defense stood its ground. With just over two minutes left, Texas State faced a fourth and goal from the USM 4-yard line. Jones hit Brandon Smith in the flats which appeared to be a walk- in touchdown. But Reed came from the middle of the field and laid a huge hit on Smith to keep him from reaching the goal line.
USM willingly accepted a safety to avoid the risk of punting from their own end zone before the Bobcats added a garbage time touchdown with just four ticks left. The final score was not indicative of how well the Golden Eagles played.
“If you just look at the areas to why you win—explosive plays, we had a bunch of them. Turnovers, unfortunately we had one, third down conversions which we were very good at (and) scoring touchdowns in the red zone, which we did and the last one is lost yardage plays,” said head coach Todd Monken. “I don’t know how many of those we had, but not a bunch. That’s how you win.”
In Monken’s tenure as the head man, there have been very few games in which his team has executed in all five of his ‘how you win’ areas, but this was certainly one of them. The offense was more explosive than it has ever been, they played smart and disciplined on both sides of the ball and the defense made big plays in big moments.
While the season is still young, it is clear that this group is not the same Golden Eagle teams we have witnessed the past three seasons. This teams looks very much like a contender in Conference USA and that is not a knee-jerk reaction. The Golden Eagles are now a fast and physical team capable of winning every time they step onto the field.
But this newfound success will be put to the test this week. The Golden Eagles travel to Lincoln, Nebraska, to take on a very good Cornhusker squad, but the talent differential will not be as large as in seasons past.
Nebraska (1-2) is coming off a heart-breaking OT loss to Miami and could be looking past USM with their conference schedule looming ahead. It will be interesting to see just how far these Golden Eagles have come when the game kicks off Saturday at 11 a.m.