SMU's hot winning streak came to a brutal halt Saturday night in Hattiesburg.
The Mustangs couldn't score a single touchdown and lost to Southern Miss 27-3 in a crucial conference road game. The Golden Eagles snapped SMU's five-game winning streak and it only gets tougher with a trip to Tulsa looming next weekend.
The Southern Miss defense, which ranks third in Conference USA behind Central Florida and SMU, held the Mustangs' high-tempo offense to just 330 total yards and 14 first downs. It's also notable that SMU was only able to convert three of 14 third downs.
Despite the offensive struggles throughout the night, SMU was still in the game in the fourth quarter. Down 13-3 and driving with less than 10 minutes to play, quarterback J.J. McDermott's pass en route to Cole Beasley was tipped, then intercepted in the end zone by Southern Miss' Marquese Wheaton.
"[Beasley] was wide open and I overthrew him," McDermott said. "All in all, despite everything, we still had a shot. And we didn't execute."
The Golden Eagles all-but finished the Mustangs off on the ensuing drive when Jamal Woodyard rushed 55 yards for a touchdown with 7:30 left. And when SMU got the ball back, McDermott was intercepted again by Wheaton, who returned it 41 yards for a touchdown at the 6:54 mark.
"I have to play better," McDermott said. "We were playing from behind the whole time. They did a good job. You have to give them credit."
McDermott finished the night completing half of his passes (16 of 32) for just 173 yards.
Zach Line, who's averaging 110.8 rushing yards per game, ran for a season-high 163 yards on 22 carries, but couldn't convert any of his eight carries inside the 10-yard line into touchdowns.
SMU couldn't get its passing game going all game, and it didn't help that starting receivers Darius Johnson and Der'rikk Thompson missed much of the game with injuries. The Mustangs also missed a field goal attempt in the first half and suffered from a slew of false starts.
"The Rock," otherwise known as M. M. Roberts Stadium, was rocking with a boisterous crowd of about 36,000. But despite the false starts and SMU's ineffective offense, the noise is not an excuse.
"You have to overcome the crowd," McDermott said. "You have to expect false starts. You just have to overcome them. It was probably a little excessive but we definitely need to limit that. All in all though, with everything that happened, we still had a shot and just didn't execute."
Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis was impressive and went 27 of 37 for 266 yards and a touchdown.
June Jones said last week that unless his team was positive in the giveaway-takeaway, they wouldn't win. SMU's defense, who was the reason why the Mustangs were able to stay close until the middle of the fourth quarter, forced two turnovers, but the offense gave up two.
SMU entered the game averaging a minus-1.50 turnover margin, second worst out of 120 FBS schools. Ja'Gared Davis had an interception, which led to SMU's field goal, and Randall Joyner forced and recovered a fumble, but McDermott's interceptions on back-to-back drives cancelled those out.
The Mustangs' defense could only do so much and they played well enough to win. The offense didn't give them a chance with its costly errors.
"We had the chances," Jones said. "We just didn't catch the ball or throw the ball the way we needed…Hopefully we'll do better next week."
A win in Hattiesburg arguably could have helped SMU crack the Top 25 for the first time in 25 years, as they received votes in both the AP and Coaches polls after last week's convincing win over UCF. They face another conference foe on the road in Tulsa next week.
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