It was great to see the Southern Miss Golden Eagles back in the Conference USA title game after a multiple years of struggles. They played hard, but ran into a buzzsaw that is the Western Kentucky offense in a CUSA title game loss.
Let's take a look at the good, bad, and ugly of the Conference USA title game loss to WKU:
- Ito Smith's Rushing: In a game that saw Nick Mullens fail to find his groove in the passing game, Smith was excellent in rushing 15 times for 105 yards on the day. A case could be made that he was used too sparingly with the way he was running the ball.
- Reed's Pick-Six: With WKU trying to respond to a Michael Thomas touchdown catch, Kalan Reed picked off Brandon Doughty and took the interception 40 yards back for a touchdown. That score gave Southern Miss a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter.
- Michael Thomas: The senior wide receiver is shooting up NFL draft boards with his excellent senior season. He has gone from an afterthought to one of the group of five's best wide receiver prospects. You will see him playing on Sundays.
- Punting: Punter Tyler Sarrazin was masterful in his manipulation of the the football during his punts. Of his four punts, three landed inside the WKU 20-yard line. Two were downed inside the WKU five. The junior was excellent when called upon Saturday.
- The Passing Game: Everyone is entitled to a poor game here and there. It is disappointing that Mullens had arguably his worst game of the season in the CUSA title game versus WKU. He was all over the place with his accuracy from the very beginning in going 15-30 passing for 181 yards and three interceptions.
- Turnovers: You have to be at your best offensively when you face a team that can scores as quickly as the Hilltoppers. As evidenced by four turnovers on the day that resulted in 24 WKU points, it was not the day Southern Miss had in mind. Three turnovers in four drives in the second half turned a 28-24 lead into a 45-28 loss.
- Injuries: With the way that Southern Miss defenders were falling left and right in the second half, it was no surprise that the WKU offense got rolling. At one point, every member of the secondary missed time with injuries. That cannot happen when hoping to slow down the high-flying WKU offense.
- Late First Half Timeouts: It is easy to second guess the decision to call timeouts at the end of the first half with WKU pinned deep. It backfield as D'Andre Ferby rushed for eight yards and got the first down. The Hilltoppers then decided to try for a score and ended the first half with a touchdown that tied the game at 21.
- Booing Injuries: I don't care if you think the team was milking injuries, you do not boo an injured player on the field. It was not a single time, but on nearly every opportunity in the second half the WKU faithful booed at the injured Southern Miss players on the field. That is how you get a bad reputation as a fanbase.
Play of the Game:
- T.J. McCollum Intercepts Mullens: The Golden Eagles had just stopped WKU on fourth down and had the ball at midfield. Facing a third and six at the WKU 47-yard line, Mullens was picked off and the rout began.
- Heart Of Dallas Bowl: The Golden Eagles head to Dallas to play in the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas bowl versus the Washington Huskies. That game will be played at the Cotton Bowl Stadium on Saturday, December 26 at 1:20 PM CST.