Southern Miss fans had this game circled for a long time.
They wanted to play the Tigers. They got to play the Tigers.
“It doesn’t matter where you play, you’ve got to execute between those lines,” said coach Jay Hopson.
Southern Miss gave LSU all they had in the first half, tying the Tigers at 10-10 going into the intermission.
Southern Miss’ game plan was slow and methodical, taking more than eight minutes to score on its first possession. Nick Mullens, who primarily is not a runner, pushed the ball to the one-yard line and gave Ito Smith a short field to work with for the 7-0 lead on the Tigers.
That was the first touchdown LSU had allowed all season in the first quarter and the 10th point total in the first period.
The Tigers answered with a D.J. Chark 19-yard rush near the end of the first quarter to tie up the contest at 7-7. The Golden Eagles, who came into the game as 25-point underdogs, used a strategic approach, evidenced by their 18:35-11:25 time of possession discrepancy against LSU.
“We matchup with different teams different ways,” said quarterback Nick Mullens. “The best way for us was to attack with the run game and dink and dunk and just be efficient with the passes.”
The beginning of the second half did not yield the same results for Southern Miss as they were blitzed by the Tigers on a 14-0 run with 10:50 on the clock in the third quarter. Those quick 14 points for LSU turned into a 24-10 deficit for the Golden Eagles.
Southern Miss, who came into the game as underdogs and knew they would have to keep their focus, seemed to lose it as the game wore on, according to receiver Allenzae Staggers.
“[We were] thinking we were in the game,” Staggers said. “[We got] side-tracked and they just made good plays.”
By the end of the third quarter, Southern Miss fell behind LSU by 28 points on just 10 plays. The Golden Eagles’ offense produced 74 yards in the third quarter. Just as George Payne’s fumble gave up offensive momentum on one possession, the Golden Eagles could not muster anything in the second half after containing the Tigers in the first.
“Night and day,” Hopson said. “It was that third quarter – big play, big play, big play. At the end of the day, those are the things we can’t do.”
The fourth quarter proved no better for Southern Miss. They fell behind 35 points with enough time on the clock in the final quarter.
“We can’t have those spurts,” Hopson said. “They hit a couple of big plays and that was ball game.”
Southern Miss will have a bye week this week and return for play against Marshall on Oct. 29.