Kentucky loss offers positive takeaways for the team


Sean Pokorny-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 19, 2016; Denton, TX, USA; Southern Miss Golden Eagles quarterback Keon Howard (2) hands the ball to running back Ito Smith (25) against the North Texas Mean Green at Apogee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sean Pokorny-USA TODAY Sports

Despite dropping the season opener to Kentucky, many off- season questions have been answered and the Golden Eagles look to put together a competitive team again.

Starter Keon Howard’s play in the first half was like that of last season, as he looked panicked at times and over-thought plays. He proved to be effective when running the ball and found his way with the deep ball. However, the short passes often missed the mark, and he struggled holding drives together as he finished 7-of-14 with 87 yards.

Kwadra Griggs stepped in for the second half and found some instant success throwing 15-of-26 for 222 yards and two touchdowns. Griggs ignited the passing game with the 42-yard touchdown pass, and used the talent of the receivers to the best of his ability. Griggs did not look as confident running the ball as Howard, nonetheless he made the plays when needed and was more comfortable in the pocket.

“He made some plays,” Head Coach Jay Hopson said. “He definitely did some good things. He threw the ball well and ran the ball well so there a lot of positives.”

The offensive line struggled holding its own in the run game, but Kentucky’s defense seemed to have a game plan on keeping Ito Smith at bay. The run game averaged just 1.4 yards a carry and missed several blocks for the running backs. However, the offensive line created pass plays and consistently gave each quarterback protection.

Poor field position played a major role against Kentucky for the defense. The strongest point, as predicted, was the defensive line who held the Kentucky team to a total of 78-rushing yards. The secondary showed more improvement compared to last season, and apart from the early 59- yard pass; the secondary held the Wildcats to just 117 yards of passing.

Along with the notable stats, the defense made the stops when the outcome of the game was on the line and forced Kentucky to turnover on downs in crucial moments in the fourth quarter.

The offense has kinks to work out, but if Griggs can solidify his play as the single-starter then the passing game can be equally as successful as last season. The offense’s focus should be utilizing the run game by focusing on their blocking, to get Ito Smith better involved for the run. The defensive had minor breakdowns, but their focus should be keeping penalties at a minimum since those were a deciding factor in their loss to Kentucky.

“I like the spirit of this team our guys are fighting hard,” Hopson said. “These guys kept clawing back and kept putting themselves in a decent position. I was pleased with our effort. We are young at some spots, but I think we have a good football team.”

Overall, the team has the talent and personnel to be successful for this season, but developing leadership will need to this team’s focus if they are to reach their goal of winning the conference championship.

The Golden Eagles will take on Southern University at the M.M. Roberts Stadium on Sept. 9 at 6 p.m.