Southern Mississippi was tired of losing. With only one win in the month of October, the Golden Eagles emerged from the hometown tunnel ready to play and determined to win.
15 Plays later, the Golden Eagles crowned a 5:30 drive with a one-yard touchdown run by Ito Smith and USM never looked back en-route to a 24-14 win over the Marshall.
Southern Miss accumulated 474 yards of total offense while the Thundering Herd was barely audible with just 226.
Southern Miss is now 5-3 (3-1 in conference). Marshall is 2-6 (1-3 in conference) and facing the unusual prospect of not making it to a bowl game for the first time since 2012.
The victory keeps Southern Miss in control of its own path to the Conference USA Championship Game, but perhaps even more significant, it returns the Golden Eagles’ rhythm and confidence that was evident in September.
In our preview of this game, we said that we “expect Mullens to get to 300 yards passing and Ito Smith to exceed 120 yards on the ground” and that USM would win by 17.
Mullens passed for exactly 300 yards, Smith rushed for 140 yards, and until the final two minutes, Southern Miss was ahead 24-7.
We also said that Marshall’s best hope for winning the game would be Southern Mississippi’s careless handling of the ball, but that was not a factor since the Golden Eagles only gave up one turnover.
After the Golden Eagles downed the opening kickoff in the end zone, Mullens and Smith went to work. On the opening drive, Mullens was 5-for-8 for 39 yards while Smith rushed six times for 28 yards and a touchdown.
The teams traded a few three-and-outs before Southern Miss ended a six-play, 60-yard trek with a 34-yard Parker Shaunfield field goal and a 10-0 USM lead.
Marshall responded with an nine-play, 89-yard drive that culminated with running back Keion Davis scoring on a short touchdown run, and the Thundering Herd ended the half trailing just 10-7.
That score didn’t change until the beginning of the fourth quarter when Mullens led a 57-yard scoring drive in less than three minutes and completed three passes over 10 yards before finding Allenzae Staggers for a four-yard touchdown.
Two possessions later, Smith broke free for a 40-yard touchdown run and Southern Mississippi was in front 24-7.
Marshall came back on its next possession when, on a fourth-and-one, sophomore quarterback Chase Litton found Michael Clark alone in the flat and the fleet receiver went 44 yards to the end zone with 2:26 left to play.
Marshall’s on-side kick attempt was unsuccessful and Southern Miss ran out the clock.
Smith had 26 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns while teammate George Payne had 11 carries for another 51 yards.
Davis was the leading Herd ball-carrier with 11 rushes for 52 yards.
The Golden Eagles out-gained Marshall on the ground 174 to 60.
Mullens was 22 of 40 for 300 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions for USM while Litton finished 20 of 34 for 166 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
Southern Mississippi will host Charlotte (3-5) next Saturday while Marshall travels to Norfolk, Virginia, to play Old Dominion (5-3).