Early mistakes plague USM, fall 42-21

In one of the team’s more productive games this season, Southern Miss was unable to catch up to Middle Tennessee as the Blue Raiders defeated the Eagles 42-21 Saturday. The Eagles’ record for the longest active FBS losing streak was extended to 23 losses.

Mistakes haunted the Eagles early in the game. On their opening drive, USM drove the length of the field only to have a 29-yard field goal attempt bounce off the left upright.

“Unfortunately, we had every opportunity to start fast and did not,” said USM head coach Todd Monken after the game. “We take the opening drive, had a miscommunication with the quarterback and we miss the field goal. That was kind of deflating.”

Two of freshman quarterback Nick Mullens’ passes were intercepted and returned for touchdowns, giving the Raiders a 14-7 advantage before their offense began to move the ball.

Despite the early mistakes, the Southern Miss defense held its own against a stagnant MTSU offense until the latter half of the second quarter. Finally, MTSU scored on a Shane Tucker 3-yard run and a 16-yard touchdown pass from Raider quarterback Logan Kilgore, as the Raiders ended the first half with a 28-7 lead.

Cold, rainy weather prompted many of the 22,000 fans to leave the game during halftime, but in the presence of the few who stayed, the USM defense fended off MTSU in the third quarter. With 1:27 left in the third quarter, Mullens led the Eagles on a 6-play, 57-yard scoring drive, capped by a 14-yard pass to Kendrick Hardy for the touchdown.

Going into the fourth quarter, USM had hopes of a comeback as the Eagles were only trailing 28-14. The offense wasn’t able to muster any momentum and the defense could not stop the Blue Raiders, who scored two more touchdowns to take a 42-14 lead.

Mullens tossed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Tyre’oune Holmes with less than three minutes left in the game, but it was too little, too late. The Golden Eagles fell to 0-11 (0-7 in conference) on the season.

Though the Eagles lost, Monken believes his team performed well. After all, the USM defense had an impressive first half, and the offense finally produced. The matchup against MTSU was only the second game this season in which the Eagles scored more than 20 points.

“I think our team fought,” said Monken. “I like our team. I like our guys’ fight… I thought [Mullens] battled and I thought our team battled. It just wasn’t good enough today.”

Though there was little to show for it, the Eagles had 371 total yards, 82 of which were on the ground. Mullens completed 27 of his 47 pass attempts, with three touchdowns and two crucial interceptions.

The future looks bright for USM’s defense as Dylan Bradley, a freshman defensive lineman from Macon, Miss., recorded 13 tackles and a six-yard tackle for loss. His performance led the defense in a tremendous effort against the Blue Raiders.

“I feel very proud about that,” Bradley said of his 13-tackle game. “My coaches put me in there to make plays and I came through for them.
“[Defensive coordinator David]Duggan set us up to make plays. He told us to go out there and play hard, expect [to] win every down, get three-and-outs and go out there and play dominant football. That’s what we came with a mindset of doing.”

Southern Miss will need Bradley and the defense working hard again this Saturday, Nov. 30, as the Golden Eagles travel to Birmingham to take on the 2-9 UAB Blazers. This is USM’s last chance to avoid a second consecutive winless season. Kickoff is set for 12 p.m.