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North Texas grinds it out, tops Southern Miss 43-28

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After an early 21-7 lead, the Golden Eagles succumbed to Seth Littrell’s air attack, Mason Fine’s cannon of an arm, and senior Jeffrey Wilson.

NCAA Football: North Texas at Southern Mississippi
North Texas, in their new white uniforms, celebrate a Jeffrey Wilson TD in the 2nd half against Southern Miss. North Texas took their first lead with 6 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, and never trailed again.
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since our prediction earlier in the week, fans of Southern Miss had some very specific opinions about both what we had to say, and how we said it.

On this site, we have a number of different writers covering a number of different teams, over three conferences. While there’s no specific rule against being a homer, we generally try to avoid this pitfall, as this one simply came down to the numbers, not spite. UNT RB Jeffrey Wilson had more rushing yards this season than USM RB Ito Smith. UNT QB Mason Fine had more passing yards than USM QB Kwadra Griggs. Like, a lot more.

But because the underdogs have to stick together, we’ve written two game recaps, to show fans of Southern Miss we’re on their side. We are all, after all, underdogs. You can skip to the section that concerns you, which we understand is how most of the internet works these days.

North Texas Recap

This one went by the numbers. Southern Miss had reason to cheer when they saw the Golden Eagles up 21-7 early, but these were quick breakaway plays that exploited holes in UNT’s defense. Once UNT adjusted (and they did), the holes went away and USM had to grind it out over long series of plays, which they are capable of doing, but as we said in our preview, they don’t do it as well as North Texas.

USM put points on the board, sure, but Mason Fine had a legacy-defining day, throwing 24/40 for 366 yards. That’s 9.1 yards a pass, with two TDs and an INT. That plus a fumble kept Southern Miss close, but between penalties and just getting crushed on passing yards, Southern Miss was never really in this one.

Jeffrey Wilson carried 30 times for 148 yards, which is honestly low for him and shows the effectiveness of the Golden Eagle defense. And so North Texas attacked through the air, making a conference star out of Jalen Guyton.

Guyton had 14 catches for 211 yards and a TD, which means he averaged 15 yards a catch.

Things got a little dicey there at the top of the game when Southern Miss marched down the field and scored on their opening drive, but UAB did the same thing last week and we know how that turned out. The game clock goes for 60 minutes, and despite the aforementioned big plays given up by the UNT defense, their offense got the job done. The 43 points given up by Southern Miss were their most all season, which should bring them back to earth for expectations in conference play.

Despite the early lead, North Texas never got nervous, twice going deep on 3rd and 1, as if they didn’t have a care in the world. And they didn’t, finishing 4/4 on 4th down conversions. Then again, they went for two (and failed) while up by 12 midway through the 2nd, so maybe they have some things to work out internally. Still, did we mention 4/4 on 4th downs?

Southern Miss Recap

Today could’ve gone better.

Ito Smith started the day with 60 rushes for 333 yards, setting up Southern Miss for their best season since Todd Monken left town. And he was no slouch today, adding another 102 yards to the total, on 13 carries. Kwadra Griggs also showcased his usual heroics, completing 19/42 passes for 270 yards, a TD, and zero INTs. He also rushed 11 times for 26 yards.

Despite these big plays early on, the Golden Eagles could not hold the lead. Their defense held where it could, and stopped Jeffrey Wilson somewhat, but they had no answer for this passing attack, arguably the toughest air attack they’ve faced this season (and yes, we’re including Kentucky in that statement).

This and penalties doomed the Golden Eagles, who drew six flags for 64 yards on the day, compared to NT’s three penalties for 19. The team also failed to capitalize on turnovers— they did recover a Rico Bussey Jr fumble early in the 2nd, which they converted to a TD, but later in the 2nd, an INT from Mason Fine resulted in a 3-and-out.

The Golden Eagles have a way to go, as Jay Hopson clearly has a different approach than his predecessor. He did a fine job of reading the offense, not falling for it when UNT went long on 3rd and 1 (excellent coverage downfield on these plays), and in the 2nd when UNT looked like they might try that trick again, lining up three WR’s on the right side, the Southern Miss defense spotted the run and they were correct. But the 4th down conversions were another contributing factor, and one defensive coordinator David Duggan did not have an answer for.

Summary

Also in our preview, we pointed out the fact that North Texas squeaked by in their game last year, winning with backup QB Alec Morris. About that:

We regret the oversight. Nevertheless, today was a pretty entertaining game, showcasing the best of both teams. Today’s victory moves the all-time series to 6-6 between the teams, and gives North Texas a 3-2 lead since joining C-USA.

Yes, we know, Southern Miss doesn’t really consider North Texas a rival, and there’s Louisiana Tech and UAB out there, anyway.

But now it’s time to redirect that hate at another upstart, as the Golden Eagles must gear up for UTSA next week. If Southern Miss didn’t like today’s game, they’re REALLY not going to enjoy the Alamodome.

North Texas has next weekend off, before welcoming those same pesky Roadrunners into Denton on Oct. 14.