With 7:04 left in the second quarter, sophomore wide receiver Quez Watkins found and outran Jackson State defenders for an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown. It was the first of four Watkins touchdowns in Southern Miss’ 55-7 season opener over Jackson State.
“It’s always good to get the first win,” Southern Miss Head Coach Jay Hopson said. “We started fast. I really liked our first three or four possessions on offense. I feel like defensively we were good too. We had a few three and outs early. It was a good win and it was a good opportunity in the second half to play a lot of guys.”
Southern Miss’ offense was quick, as junior quarterback Jack Abraham found Watkins on the first two drives of the first quarter. Abraham first hit him on a 26-yard touchdown that Watkins took up the middle for the score. The second touchdown came on a 28-yard touchdown pass with Watkins making an over the shoulder catch at the edge of the end zone.
Following a field goal by Parker Shaunfield and Watkins’ punt return for a touchdown, the Southern Miss’ defense showcased itself as senior Delmond Landry forced a fumble and Xavier Marion returned it for a 26-yard touchdown to take a 31-0 lead at halftime.
The duo swapped roles on the next drive as Marion forced a fumble and Landry recovered at the Tiger’s 43-yard line. Five plays later, Abraham found wide receiver Jordan Mitchell, who caught his first touchdown pass since 2015.
Shaunfield hit a second field goal with less than two minutes in the half to send Southern Miss into halftime with a large 41-0 lead.
At the start of the second half, Watkins scored again on a 22-yard touchdown pass for his third of the game.
“Quez is a good football player,” Hopson said. “The good thing is we have three or four wide receivers that have that ability. It’s hard to say ‘let’s focus on Quez’ because the others can go too. Tonight, was kind of his night. It seemed like he got the balls and made the opportunity but we have a lot of weapons out there and that’s always a good thing.”
Jackson State’s lone touchdown came at the end of the third quarter off a nine-yard touchdown pass.
Any concern there was for Abraham at the start can be put to rest, as he completed 10-of-11 passes to start the game. Abraham threw for 242 yards, four touchdowns and finished the game 21-for-27 in terms of completions.
“Jack had a good game,” Hopson said. “I think he understands that he has to do it week in and week out. He’s a level-headed young man. I think he understands the game. I was pleased. I thought he moved us well. I thought he managed the game extremely well. I was really proud of his effort.”
“I felt good,” Abraham said. “I felt confident in the offense and the receivers. We worked a lot this week doing extra routes after practice. The timing was good tonight and I thought our execution was good too.”
Including Marion’s and Landry’s fumbles, the defense forced a total of four turnovers. Junior Ky’el Hemby and freshman Shannon Showers each had an interception on the night.
“We’re a talented outfield, back there,” Hopson said. “There’s one game does not a season make. They know they better come to play next week.”
The run game had a slow production night, despite finishing with 202 yards rushing. The Southern Miss offense had 42 yards rushing in the first half. Running back Tez Parks had the most carries with 13 and ran for 34 yards, in the first half. Freshman running back Trivenskey Mosley was second in carries with 12, finishing with 51 yards on the night. It is also worth noting that Steven Anderson had four carries for 33 yards in the game.
“I thought Tez did some really good things,” Hopson said. “I thought Steven ran with some power. I thought Trievensky showed me a lot of things for a true freshman. He is a young man that is exceptionally fast and quick.”
Southern Miss returns to action on September 8 at M.M. Roberts Stadium to play Louisiana-Monroe, with kick off set for 6 p.m.