The Southern Miss Golden Eagles (0-8, 0-4) continued the nation’s longest active losing streak Saturday with a 61-13 loss to the Marshall Thundering Herd (5-3, 3-1). It is the Eagles’ third consecutive blowout loss of the season.
For the first time in the 2013 season, USM won the time of possession battle, having possession for over 37 minutes. But time of possession didn’t matter much to Marshall: Four of their scoring drives lasted less than a minute each.
“It was very important,” said Marshall defensive tackle Brandon Sparrow about scoring quickly. “They haven’t won any games this year but they have nothing to lose. They were just coming trying to ruin our season, and we couldn’t let that happen. We just came out and played to our best abilities and got the win.”
The Eagles’ defense allowed 636 total yards, 304 of which were on the ground. Opponents have outscored the Golden Eagles 255-71 in the last five games.
“We’re beat up a little bit, and we’ve been playing teams the last few weeks that spread you out and really expose your weaknesses,” said USM head coach Todd Monken.
Southern Miss’ defense has an array of issues. In Saturday’s contest with the Herd, the Eagles had just seven tackles for loss, six quarterback hurries and no sacks.
“Number one is our inability to affect the quarterback; that’s first and foremost,” Monken said of the defense. “We’re not affecting the quarterback and we’re not stopping him from running the football, which is a bad combination, because what do you do now? You’re not giving yourself a chance to win.”
The Southern Miss offensive line yielded four sacks and 11 tackles for loss that consistently hindered the offense. The Herd defense hurried Mullens 15 times and forced two turnovers, a fumble and an interception.
Despite the offensive line’s performance, USM’s freshman starting quarterback Mullens was 24 of 48 for 323 yards, a touchdown and just one interception. It was the second time this season USM has had over 300 yards passing in a game.
“Marshall is a good team with an active defense,” Mullens said. “They did a good job today. As an offense, we need to score more points, but I thought we moved the ball a little bit better today. We just have to keep building and working hard.”
About halfway through the second quarter Mullens tossed an 81-yard pass to receiver Markese Triplett for a touchdown, cutting Marshall’s lead to 28-7. But USM’s only other scores were a pair of Corey Acosta field goals.
It was the second consecutive game that a Southern Miss opponent was two-for-two on fourth down. Up 21-0 in the first quarter, Marshall went for the touchdown on fourth and goal at the USM 1-yard line and made their lead 28-0. Later, on fourth and four at the USM 32-yard line, Marshall went for the first down and converted on a pass to receiver Tommy Shuler.
The Herd’s kicker Justin Haig was seven of nine on points after attempt, and the Herd punter Tyler Williams averaged over 39 yards per punt. Marshall’s special teams units were well-equipped to handle fourth down situations, so why did Marshall head coach Doc Holliday go for it on fourth down?
“We knew we came out to make a statement,” Marshall strong safety Tiquan Lang said. “We didn’t care that we had a big lead, we just had to keep grinding.”
Freshman running back George Payne led the Southern Miss rushing game with 46 yards on 13 carries. The Eagles’ rushing woes continued as they averaged just 2.2 yards per carry.
“You can always get better,” Mullens said. “You can always get your team into a better play and make better decisions. There are certainly things to build on as we keep going through the season. We have to finish out strong.”
“I think our guys are playing hard,” Monken said of the team. “I think we have tremendous focus. I don’t doubt our team’s effort. I don’t doubt our work during the week, but ultimately, we’re not seeing that on Saturdays, and that starts with me and our coaches. We have to do better. We have to coach better, and we have to play better.”
The Golden Eagles travel to Ruston, La., for a 6 p.m. game against Louisiana Tech (3-5, 2-2) on Saturday, Nov. 9. The “Rivalry in Dixie” has been dominated by the Golden Eagles, holding a 31-13 edge in the series. USM currently holds a three-game winning streak against La Tech.