A week after a close loss against WKU, Southern Miss (2-7, 1-4 Conference USA) once again fell short of completing a comeback against UTSA (6-4, 4-2 Conference USA), losing 23-20.
“That was really a tough loss,” Interim Head Coach Tim Billings said. “We played hard and defensively, we played really well.”
Southern Miss’s defense has not allowed more than 23 points for three weeks after allowing more than 30 points in all of its first six games. The Nasty Bunch held up UTSA quarterback Frank Harris, causing him to earn just 71 yards on 12 completions. Linebacker Hayes Maples led the Golden Eagles with 11 total tackles. Defensive back Malik Shorts was also a stand-out, with nine tackles and an interception against UTSA.
However, running back Sincere McCormick had an even more successful outing, which earned him the Conference USA Player of the Week award. McCormick rushed for 173 yards and got two touchdowns on 32 carries. McCormick’s play of the game, however, was when he ran a 69-yard touchdown from one end of the field to the other.
“Overall, defensively we played pretty well,” Billings said. “We have no depth and it showed. We have three corners out and some other people hurt. They did a great job running the ball. I felt our defense did a great job holding a team like this to 23 points. We had a pretty good night giving up only one big play, but it was the killer of the whole game.”
Southern Miss quarterback Tate Whatley returned to action this week and delivered a career-high number of passing yards, giving the Golden Eagles its highest passing totals since Oct. 31. Whatley threw for 272 yards, two touchdowns and one interception on 22 completions of 34 attempts. He suffered a shoulder injury late in the game, losing 19 yards as a result.
“He was just trying to make a play because he is a competitor,” Billings said. “I was proud of the way he played. He hadn’t done really anything in three weeks because of the concussion, and I’m proud of the way he competed tonight.”
Unlike past games, Southern Miss jumped to an early lead, which it held onto until late in the second quarter. The Golden Eagles led 3-0 after kicker Briggs Bourgeois made a 37-yard field goal.
UTSA got on the scoreboard with a safety in the second quarter after Whatley was sacked, which caused the ball to be fumbled into the endzone. The Roadrunners took its lead later in that quarter on Harris’s lone passing touchdown of the game. Harris passed to wide receiver Zakhari Franklin for a six-yard touchdown, putting UTSA up 9-3.
However, Southern Miss took the lead back before halftime. Receiver Tim Jones caught his first touchdown since the second game of the year to give the Golden Eagles a slim 10-9 lead. Jones’s outing against UTSA saw his most productive game since he suffered an injury earlier this season, running 65 yards on five receptions.
The start of the third half was just as promising, as McCormick broke free for a 69-yard touchdown early in the third quarter.
“They have a very good offensive line and brought two tight ends [in],” Billings said. “They found a big play when we were out of position. The following series they ran over us a little bit. We made a few adjustments and played well the rest of the game.”
After UTSA safety Rashad Wisdom intercepted Whatley’s first drive in the second half, McCormick added another touchdown to the board on a one-yard rush, which put UTSA up 23-10.
Southern Miss stopped the Roadrunners from scoring for the remainder of the game and staged a comeback. Bourgeois made a field goal at the end of the third quarter after the offense stalled in the red zone.
In the fourth quarter, running back Frank Gore Jr. caught a short pass from Whatley and ran for a 51-yard touchdown, bringing the Golden Eagles within three points of winning. Gore also led the team on the ground throughout the game, with 70 yards on 13 carries.
“If you watch Frank Gore Jr.[,] you will see he is a really good football player,” Billings said. “He is in the locker room upset because he is such a competitor. I love the kid and we are blessed to have him here. He is a team player. This was another great performance by Frank tonight.”
After Southern Miss stalled on a drive late in the fourth quarter, the Roadrunners took the ball back and ran out the clock to seal its victory.
The Golden Eagles will travel to Birmingham this Friday, where they will face off against another conference rival, University of Alabama at Birmingham.