The Good- Isaiah Jones 71 yard touchdown reception with 26 seconds left in the first half was an absolute momentum changer.
With 1:01 left in the third quarter, Mullens and company go on fourth and goal from the half yard line for a huge touch down. It does my heart good to see Mullens under center in short yardage and goal line situations. It appeared that Kentucky had stopped Nick right at the goal line until Ito Smith finished things off by knocking Nick into the end zone. The play of the offensive line was totally dominating in the second half. Offensive line coach Jack Wright used an eight man rotation on the offensive line that simply crushed the will of the Wildcat defensive line in the second half. Jacob Fleming received most of the work at left tackle in the first half, but Will Freeman came on strong in the later stages of the game, seemingly getting better and better as the game went on. All week long we all heard about Kentucky's two headed monster at running back of Boom Williams and JoJo Kemp.
The Wildcats did not account for the beast that was Ito Smith and George Payne, who accounted for 273 yards rushing, with 146 coming in the second half. Speaking of beasts, the Wild Eagle made an appearance early in the first half as Ito Smith took a direct snap from Cameron Tom for an 8 yard touchdown. Good does not come close to defining the stellar play of Dylan Bradley.
Bradley played up and down the Southern Miss defensive line, and gave the larger Wildcat offensive line fits. During the first half Bradley mainly played a zero technique right over the face of the center. After some second half adjustments the defense played more out of the three three stack, moving Bradley out wider to more of a three or four technique where he had more success penetrating into Kentucky's offensive backfield. Bradley harassed Wildcat quarterback Drew Barker repeatedly in the second half with a pair of tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble.
The play of Nick Mullens in the second half was what we have all become custom to seeing here at Southern Miss. Nick settled down and rode the wave of a dominating run game that took a tremendous amount of pressure of of Nick, allowing him to simply manage the offensive in the second half. The 18 yard touchdown pass to tight end Julian Allen, who was releasing on a wheel route, was a thing of beauty, totally confusing the Kentucky secondary. There was so much good Saturday that it would be hard to list it all, but I will throw out one more dominating stat. The Southern Miss defense held Kentucky's offense to a paltry 46 yards on 14 plays in the second half. Domination seems like a weak adjective to use for what Tony Pecoraro's defense did to the boys from the blue grass state in the second half.
The Bad- The three picks thrown by Nick Mullens in the first half were very uncharacteristic of him. The errant passes could be attributed to poor decisions on Mullens part. I personally think that the picks could be attributed to the great play of Kentucky's tall corners and some new wrinkles implemented by Kentucky's defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot. Obviously our offensive staff made some nice adjustments and Mullens settled down in the second half completing ten of his next fourteen passes. During the first of of the game our defensive looked lost and out of sync. There were blown coverages, missed assignments, and poor gap and fill integrity that allowed Wildcat quarter back Drew Barker to torch the Eagles for four first half passing touch downs. Again I attribute some of this to new Wildcat's offensive coordinator Eddie Gran implementing some new wrinkles that our defensive staff had not accounted for.
The Ugly- The first half play of our secondary could be described as ugly, but oh how they redeemed them selves during the second stanza. The pick by Trae Collins more than made up for earlier missed assignments.
One Ugly stat from this game was the 95 grueling snaps that the Wildcat defense had to play during this game. An ugly site for the home standing Wildcats had to be watching the majority of their fans hitting the exits with six plus minutes to play. Ugly had to be the hard truth coming to fruition that Mark Stoops had obviously made Shannon Dawson his scape goat last season. Ugly could be the attitude I displayed after the first half, as I had all but given up on my beloved Eagles. I should have known that our guys are some of the most physically, and mentally tough football players in he country. I should have known the never say die attitude that has always been the trademark of Southern Miss teams. I should have drawn comfort in the fact that coaches Zack Woodfin and Jay Hopson have taken those core values of toughness to another level. In the end, it was a beautiful thing to behold.