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Ito Smith runs wild as Southern Miss knocks off ULM 28-17

Golden Eagles post 534 total yards of offense in road victory over the Warhawks.

NCAA Football: Southern at Southern Mississippi
Jay Hopson and USM pick up a solid non-conference road win in week three.
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

It was an intriguing non-conference match-up between Conference USA and the Sun Belt as the dudes from Hattiesburg headed over to Monroe to take on the Warhawks. Both squads were coming off impressive starts to the season and were looking for a big non-conference victory to give them a spark heading into league play.

This one went as expected as the ULM defense was gashed by Shannon Dawson’s offense.

After accumulating only 104 yards on the ground in the first two games, senior tailback Ito Smith finally had his breakout game in Malone Stadium as he went for 219 yards on 27 carries. The Golden Eagles went to Smith early and often and the Mobile, Alabama native delivered. Smith chipped in three receptions as well as he was giving the ULM defense nightmares all night.

In his first career road start, junior quarterback Kwadra Griggs was very solid as he completed 17-of-32 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns. Griggs did have one interception but he chipped in 57 rushing yards as he is slowly proving to be one of the better quarterbacks in the C-USA.

Allenzae Staggers had the biggest game of his senior season after being very quiet the first two weeks. The senior recorded 75 yards on four receptions with a score. Korey Robertson collected 72 yards on three receptions with two going for touchdowns. The junior is currently leading USM in receptions, yards, and touchdowns.

ULM addressed a big bugaboo in this contest as they left the game even in the turnover battle. That has been a big worry for the Warhawks in the Matt Viator era and if they are able to control their turnover issues, this offense should scare a lot of people in the Sun Belt.

Garrett Smith got the start at quarterback, but sophomore Caleb Evans would finish the game behind center. Evans would provide a spark in the third quarter with a huge 67-yard touchdown to cut the Southern Miss lead to 21-17. But other than that play, things didn’t go well for the quarterbacks. The duo combined to go 11-for-27 for 112 yards in the passing game. That’s comes out to 4.1 yards per attempt and that is just not going to get it done.

After struggling against Memphis, the running game really got going against a good Southern Miss front seven. Entering this one, opponents were only gaining 70 yards per game on the ground against Hopson’s defense. On Saturday, the Warhawks accumulated 218 yards with a 5.9 yards per carry average. That should continue all year as ULM has a solid offensive line, multiple backs, and mobile quarterbacks. Alabama transfer Derrick Gore led ULM with 96 yards on 18 carries on Saturday night and should lead the team in rushing all season.

It was a great win for Jay Hopson’s squad as the Golden Eagles will enter C-USA play on a hight note. Kwadra Griggs has been a pleasant surprise at quarterback, Ito Smith is still a playmaker on the ground and in the passing game, and a defense that appears to be very improved. However, penalties are a concern moving forward as USM has been flagged at least five teams in each game this season.

Matt Viator’s team is off to a 0-2 start and his record now stands at 4-10 as the Warhawks head coach. But everything goal is still on the table for ULM and they’ll still be able to do some damage in Sun Belt play. The Warhawks have obvious quarterback issues that must be fixed, but this running game should carry ULM all season. Next week the Warhawks travel to Lafayette and will try to end the three game losing streak to their heated rival UL-Lafayette.