Southern Miss (1-1) dominated Austin Peay for their first win of the season, blowing the Governors out 52-6.
The Golden Eagle offense was consistent and explosive while the defense was stingy and disciplined. Ito Smith was the star of the game with 203 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, despite coming off the bench to start the game.
He showcased his speed and elusiveness on two huge plays that defined the game in a nutshell.
Early in the second quarter, he took a handoff off-tackle, accelerated through the hole, hit the right sideline and was gone. On USM’s second possession of the second half, he caught a middle screen and made the entire Governor defense look silly as he weaved and juked his way to a 49-yard touchdown.
“Ito makes people miss,” said head coach Todd Monken. “He accelerates well and (it) is hard for people to get their hands on him.”
Nick Mullens again played exceptionally well, throwing for 275 yards and three touchdowns and added another touchdown on the ground. He should have had a fourth touchdown pass, but Curtis Mikell dropped a perfectly placed pass in the back of the end zone on USM’s opening drive of the game.
Casey Martin was Mullens’ go-to receiver with Michael Thomas out for the game. Martin caught several third down passes and screens en route to a seven-catch, 81-yard game. D.J. Thompson and Korey Robertson each had touchdown receptions as well. The offensive line played its best game in recent memory.
Mullens rarely faced any pressure throughout the game and was not sacked. It was even better in the running game, opening up huge holes all game long, leading to 239 yards and eight yards per carry. Defensively, the front was aggressive and swarmed to the ball all afternoon, holding Austin Peay to just two yards per carry.
Dylan Bradley led the way with eight tackles, three for loss and two sacks. Linebackers Anthony Swain and Brian Anderson were equally impressive, particularly in the running game, combining for 12 tackles and 3.5 for loss.
“We are good up front. Our defensive front and linebackers gave their offense problems all afternoon. If you are good up front, there is so much you can do. Our defensive line dictated how we were going to play on defense today.” – Monken
The secondary was equally as impressive, holding Governor quarterback Trey Taylor to just 11 completions and 93 yards. Kalan Reed blanketed his receiver all game and had a 76-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Although Picasso Nelson Jr. does not have as big of a role on defense as he did a season ago, he impacted this game in a huge way on special teams. With the game still scoreless midway through the first quarter, Nelson came through and blocked a punt, setting up the USM offense on the Austin Peay 6-yard line. Three plays later, USM scored their first points of the game on a 2-yard run by Mullens.
The Golden Eagles played about as clean as a game as they possibly could. The only real hiccups were an interception thrown by Mullens on a 50/50 jump ball and two missed field goals by Stephen Brauchle.
USM hopes it can keep the momentum going as they travel to San Marcos, Texas, to take on Texas State (1-1) Saturday. Kickoff is at 6 p.m