Despite leading by seventeen points in the third quarter, Southern Miss’s first game under Interim Head Coach Scotty Walden was spoiled by a late Louisiana Tech comeback. The Golden Eagles drop to 0-2 (0-1 Conference USA) while the Bulldogs win their first game of the year 31-30.
Early in the third quarter, Southern Miss established a 27-10 lead after quarterback Jack Abraham threw a short pass in the endzone to receiver Jason Brownlee. This was Southern Miss’s last touchdown of the game before the Bulldogs rallied to win the game.
“When we’re up 27-10, there’s no excuse to let them back in the game,” Walden said. “I thought our kids fought hard. I’m proud of the way we handled ourselves and the way we fought. The fight was there, but the execution was not in critical moments.”
The deciding score came on the Bulldogs’s last possession. After Southern Miss kicker Briggs Bourgeois made a field goal to make the score 30-24, Louisiana Tech drove the ball down within Southern Miss’s ten-yard line. On a fourth and goal with 14 seconds remaining, Louisiana Tech quarterback Luke Anthony threw a pass in the back of the endzone to Griffin Hebert for a touchdown. The play was initially ruled incomplete, but was overturned after the referees determined that Hebert had one foot in the endzone. The Bulldogs kicked the point after to get a one-point lead and secure the victory.
Southern Miss’s aggressive play calling ended up having a critical impact on the final score. On the first drive of the game, the Golden Eagles kept their offense on a fourth down in field goal range, but did not convert it. After scoring their first touchdown of the game, the Golden Eagles opted to go for a two-point conversion, but did not get it.
Despite the outcome, Walden says he does not regret these decisions.
“At the end of the day, we’re going to be aggressive and we’re going to live and die by our own sword,” Walden said. “At times, we’re going to go for two and maybe if we kick a field goal there, it ties the game up, but we’re not going to play scared or timid. We’re going to lay it all on the line and we’re going to let the chips fall where they may.”
While Southern Miss held a lead for the majority of the game, the Bulldogs first took a lead early in the first quarter on a five-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Aaron Allen to Hebert.
Southern Miss responded and scored its first points on the following drive at the beginning of the second quarter. Running back Kevin Perkins pushed through the goal line to score a one-yard rushing touchdown. Southern Miss then took its first lead of the game when Abraham connected with receiver Tim Jones for a 74-yard touchdown. The touchdown catch was Jones’s longest reception of his career.
Shortly into the second half, Southern Miss linebacker Santrell Latham picked Allen off and returned the ball to the Bulldogs’ 20-yard line. Latham also had a sack and tied with Malik Shorts for a team high of 14 tackles. Shorts talked about the secondary’s performance in the game shortly after it finished.
“We did a whole lot better than what we did for the first week,” Shorts said. “We had a whole lot of improvement. We really competed [in] this game.”
Latham’s interception set up another touchdown pass from Abraham to Jones on the next play. Jones later suffered a lower body injury in the third quarter and sat on the sidelines for its remainder. Walden says he does not know the full extent of the injury, but believes it may be a soft tissue injury. Abraham noted the impact of Jones’ injury on the offense.
“I don’t think it really changed our play calling mentality as much […] but not having him out there makes a big difference,” Abraham said. “He’s a big playmaker and he really makes our offense a lot better.”
Jones finished the night with eight catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns. He has started the 2020 season with two consecutive 100-yard games. Abraham finished the game with 24 of 32 possible completions for 264 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
While the Bulldogs switched between their two quarterbacks throughout the game, Anthony threw all of the Bulldogs’s touchdowns during the team’s comeback. He finished the night with 13 of 21 possible completions for 149 yards and three touchdowns.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, the team takes away positive outlooks from the game.
“I think we saw at times how dominant and how good we can be,” Walden said.
“I’ve really seen the improvement from Week 1 to Week 2. I think everybody’s really rallying around Coach Walden and it’s really promising to see,” Abraham said. “I think we really have a good football team.”
Southern Miss now prepares to play at home again next Saturday at 1:30 PM against Tulane.