It was a beautiful night in Lexington, Kentucky, and for twenty-nine minutes, the scoreboard was equally beautiful, as it showed the Kentucky Wildcats leading Southern Mississippi 35-10. But oh my, how things can change. Southern Mississippi scored the next thirty-four points to leave Mark Stoops, Kentucky players, and Wildcat fans stunned, as the Golden Eagles walked away with a 44-35 win.
Heralded Southern Mississippi signal caller Nick Mullens came to town with plenty of hype and after just one quarter, the game's leading quarterback had 288 passing yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. However, the game's leading quarterback wasn't Nick Mullens; it was freshman Drew Barker of Kentucky. Instead of passing for three touchdowns, Mullens had three interceptions.
However, from that point on until the end of the game, Barker only managed 35 yards through the air while Elijah Parker led the Southern Mississippi defensive pressure that repeatedly stymied Barber and the Kentucky offense. In the third quarter, Kentucky had just three possessions. One ended with a punt, another a fumble, and another an interception. Meanwhile, Southern Miss was amassing a time-of-possession advantage that would culminate in the Golden Eagles favor 40:32 to 19:28.
With four minutes remaining in the third, Kentucky had an opportunity to change the Golden Eagles' momentum. Southern Miss was threatening again deep in Kentucky territory and had the ball with a critical 3rd-and-7. The Wildcats were clinging to a 35-31 lead when Mullens hit Ito Smith out of the backfield with no Wildcat defenders near. Smith converted the first down and one play later, the Golden Eagles were in the end zone and held a 38-31 lead.
The Golden Eagles added two fourth quarter field goals to finish an impressive comeback. Southern Miss showed great resilience in Jay Hopson’s debut. After this showing I have no doubt Hopson will lead the team to great things.
For the game, Mullens finished 18/28 for 288 yards and two touchdowns while Kentucky's Barber was 16/25 for 331 yards and four touchdowns.
Smith led all rushers with 173 yards and one touchdown on 36 carries.
Southern Mississippi finished with 541 total yards while Kentucky had 409.
Next Saturday, Southern Mississippi will play Savannah State (FCS) while Kentucky travels to play the Florida Gators.