It was a tale of two halves for Southern Miss as they opened the season with a big win on the road for the first time since defeating Nebraska 21-17 back in 2004.
The 44-35 win over Kentucky was remarkable enough, but considering how it happened made it even more unique. With 56 seconds remaining in the first half, Southern Miss trailed 35-10. After a 71 yard TD pass to Isaiah Jones, the Eagles went on to score 34 unanswered points through the rest of the game. Kentucky never scored again.
Here are some stats of note from the game:
- Southern Miss was able to stay balanced offensively. They rushed for a total of 296 yards on the game and and passed for 258. In contrast, Kentucky had 130 yards on the ground, and 313 through the air.
- USM dominated the possession of the ball, especially in the 2nd half. Kentucky only ran 14 plays in the 2nd half. Southern Miss ran 95 plays, to Kentucky's 50 total in the game. Time of possession was heavy in favor of the Eagles, 40:32 to 19:28.
- Southern Miss had 7 penalties for 50 yards, and Kentucky had 6 for 75
- Another key stat coming into the game was 3rd down conversions. Southern Miss converted 9 of 17 times, while Kentucky only converted 3 of 9.
- The turnover battle was a wash, as Southern Miss threw 3 INT's but had no fumbles, and Kentucky had 1 INT and 2 fumbles lost.
Ito Smith had 36 carries for 173 yards and recorded the first TD of the season for the Eagles on an 8 yard run. His rushing TD was the 13th of his career. He now has eclipsed the 100 yard mark 9 times in his career, moving into 5th all-time at Southern Miss.
George Payne rushed 16 times for 100 yards. The duo of Smith and Payne both went over 100 yards, and that last happened for USM back against ODU when Jalen Richard and Ito Smith both went over that mark. Payne had a strong return and showed his strength in running well between the tackles.
Nick Mullens passed for 258 yards but had 3 INT's in the first half. His long was a 71 yard TD strike to Isaiah Jones just before the half that proved to be a huge turning point in the game. Nick has now passed for over 200 yards 28 times in his career, putting him in second place behind Austin Davis (32). He also had two sneaks of 1 yard each in the 3rd quarter, his 6th and 7th career rushing TD's.
Isaiah Jones had a break-out game, and wore the #88 jersey well by having 3 catches for 93 yards. His 71 yard TD reception was the longest for Mullens since his freshman year.
D.J. Thompson caught three passes for 25 yards, his 18th consecutive game with a reception.
Xavier "Paw Paw" Thigpen did just about everything for Southern Miss Saturday night. He blocked the first punt of the game that led to USM's first score, had a sack, a forced fumble, and recovered another fumble.
Dylan Bradley was the leader everyone hoped he would be on the defensive line. Bradley led the team with 7 tackles (5 solo), and had a forced fumble and a sack. He was in the backfield all game and put tremendous pressure on Kentucky QB Drew Barker.
Parker Shaunfield was money for the Golden Eagles, especially in the 4th quarter where he connected on two critical field goals. He connected on field goals of 31, 49, and 25, and was perfect on his extra points.