If turnovers have hurt Southern Mississippi several times this year, then Saturday’s turnovers were downright lethal.
The Golden Eagles turned the ball over three times in its first four possessions and Old Dominion made them pay each time. Less than eight minutes through the first quarter, the Monarchs scored 21 points to seal a 51-35 win.
The win was Old Dominion’s sixth in the last seven games and moves the Monarch’s from bowl-eligible to bowl-probable. It also keeps ODU's hopes of a Conference USA championship in place in only the second year of FBS competition.
Southern Miss was without all-Conference USA quarterback Nick Mullens after he suffered a concussion last week against Charlotte but was expected to play against Old Dominion and warmed up with the team.
In his place, coach Jay Hopson elected to pull the redshirt off of third-string freshman pro-style quarterback Keon Howard.
After a shaky start, Howard rallied USM from a 42-7 fourth quarter deficit with three straight touchdowns to close the margin to just 42-28 with 10 minutes still to play.
However, the comeback died when Howard was sacked in the end zone on USM’s next possession.
Southern Mississippi’s common problems this season have been too many turnovers (bottom-10 in FBS) and starting games slowly. Against Old Dominion, both of those problems were evident from the first possession. On USM’s fifth play, Howard fumbled at his own 26-yard line and three plays later, Old Dominion scored.
Southern Miss added a 55-yard scoring pass before Old Dominion ran out the clock.
Despite issues with holding onto the ball, Howard led Southern Mississippi in rushing with 28 carries for 98 yards and a touchdown. Running back Ito Smith added 97 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Howard was 12/24 for 230 yards through the air, with one touchdown and one interception.
ODU quarterback David Washington was 12/18 for 144 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions while Jeremy Cox and Ray Lawry combined for 148 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
Southern Miss ran 80 plays. Old Dominion had 50.
The Golden Eagles are now 5-5 and travel to Denton, Texas next Saturday to play 4-6 North Texas.
Old Dominion is 7-3 and will travel to play 2-8 Florida Atlantic.