Southern Mississippi was sick and tired—-sick of turning the ball over and tired of losing.
In a Friday game, Southern Miss solved both issues at one time as the Golden Eagles only had one fumble against an otherwise perfect turnover performance as they soared to their best effort since September in a redemptive 39-24 upset of Louisiana Tech.
The home team Golden Eagles took the lead for good with 9:40 remaining in the first half when quarterback Nick Mullens found receiver D.J. Thompson with a touchdown pass to put USM up 17-14. Moments later, Mullens and Thompson got together again and USM never looked back.
Louisiana Tech narrowed the margin just before halftime when an eight-play drive stalled on the USM 21 when quarterback Ryan Higgins was sacked. A field goal brought the halftime score to 23-17. Analysts had expected Tech to challenge USM’s vulnerability to the rush but seven of the eight plays were pass attempts by Higgins.
Neither team scored in the second half until 79 seconds remained in the third quarter and Mullens found sophomore receiver Korey Robertson in the end zone to put the Golden Eagles up, 29-17 after a missed extra point.
USM added a fourth-quarter field goal and both teams added touchdowns to produce the final margin.
The win was important for Southern Mississippi because it ended a three-game losing streak. It also assures the Golden Eagles of bowl eligibility with a 6-6 record.
Louisiana Tech (8-4) had already won the West Division of Conference USA and will play defending Conference champion Western Kentucky (9-3) for the conference championship on December 3rd.
For USM quarterback Nick Mullens, the game held special importance. As a four-year starter, his senior year was expected to have extraordinary results but the most extraordinary aspects have been his missing the past three games under concussion protocol and a great number of uncharacteristic interceptions that seem caused as much by changes in coaches and schemes as inadequacies of Mullens’ skill.
Mullens finished Friday’s game with 29-of-33 passing for 340 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions.
The Golden Eagles’ Ito Smith had his seventh 100+ rushing game as he ran for 127 yards on 24 carries.
Louisiana Tech quarterback Ryan Higgins had his worst game of the season as he appeared to be rattled all day. Higgins was 22-of-39 for 246 yards, with three interceptions.
Perhaps the most telling statistical story is that Louisiana Tech was not only ineffective in running the ball against USM’s suspect rush defense, but the Bulldogs only tried 16 times. For the game, Louisiana Tech registered just eight (yes—8) yards on the ground,
Louisiana Tech will play Western Kentucky for the C--USA championship next week. Southern Mississippi has gained bowl eligibility and, according to some analysts, is the favorite for the Heart of Dallas Bowl on December 27th.