It had been 705 days and 14 hours since the last Southern Miss victory when the USM and UAB game kicked off Saturday. USM dominated UAB in the second half en route to a 62-27 score to end the nation’s longest active losing streak which was up to 23 games.
True freshman quarterback Nick Mullens turned in one of the best performances in USM history. Mullens’ five touchdown passes tied the school record and his 370 passing yards marked the seventh best passing total in school history.
Mullens finished the game 24 of 39 passing with a total Quarterback Rating of 77.5, and he added a 1-yard touchdown run as well. “He’s a good football player,” said first-year head coach Todd Monken about Mullens. “When we do the right things and catch the ball, and when we protect, he’s got a chance to be pretty good.”
In his last game as a Golden Eagle, running back Kendrick Hardy notched his sixth 100-yard rushing performance of his career. He ran for 106 yards and two scores on 20 carries.
Five different receivers caught touchdowns from Mullens with Markeese Triplett and freshman James Cox each having 68 receiving yards and a touchdown to lead the Golden Eagles. Tyre’oune Holmes had seven catches for 63 yards and a touchdown and finished the season leading USM in receptions with 53.
In the first half, there was no indication that USM was going to notch their first win since the Hawaii Bowl two years ago. They trailed 21-13 at halftime and could not finish two of their long drives with touchdowns as they settled for field goals by Corey Acosta of 30 and 25 yards.
He threw his 14th interception of the season in the first quarter and was just 14-26 with only one touchdown in the half compared to 10-13 and four passing touchdowns in the second half.
“The streak was a real burden on us. The whole Southern Miss family hung with us, and our team stuck together and worked hard through the year and it finally paid off,” Mullens said about finally ending the streak. “For the Southern Miss fans it’s great, and we’ve got a bright future and we put it together today.”
While a lot of praise is due for the offense, the defense may be more deserving. The “Nasty Bunch” was in rare form this season as they forced five UAB turnovers including four fumbles.
Sophomore defensive back Kalen Reed led the way with four tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception, the second of his career. DeBarriaus Miller filled up the stat sheet as well with eight total tackles, 1.5 for loss, a forced fumble and a pass breakup.
With USM trailing by one early in the third quarter, senior Dylan Reda forced a fumble that was recovered by Dylan Bradley which shifted the momentum in USM’s favor and they never looked back. “It feels great for our seniors, and a guy like Dylan Reda who’s been here two years and hasn’t won a game, and came here for the winning tradition,” Monken said about the win.
The Southern Miss front harassed UAB quarterback Jonathan Perry all afternoon as he was sacked five times and lost a fumble. The performance by the defense was by far the most opportunistic they have played all season.
USM went on to outscore UAB 49-6 in the second half in a lopsided affair. USM produced 472 total yards in a game that will give them something to build on going into next season. There are a lot of signs that point to this program being on the upswing.
While it may not be something to hang one’s hat on, Conference USA will probably be viewed as one of the worst conferences in college football next year with teams such as Old Dominion, Charlotte, UTSA and others being added to the slate. Also, the experience gained by underclassmen and first-time head coach Todd Monken will benefit the team.
If Mullens can continue to grow into the solid quarterback he has looked like in the past few games, the offense will be in great hands.
After enduring 23 games of failure, the dominant win has the potential to catapult the program back to relevance. It could all be wishful speculation, but there’s no doubting that the future looks brighter than it did a week ago.