It was a beautiful night at the Rock for some Southern Miss football. It was great to celebrate the 96 CUSA championship team, and to see coach Bower leading Eagle walk. Obviously it was a good night for the Eagles with the 44-28 win over CUSA West foe Rice.
The Southern Miss offense currently ranks 11th in the country in total offense averaging 527.2 yards per game after putting up 702 yards of total offense on the Rice defense. MTSU ranks 10th in the country with 528.4 yards per game.
Nick Mullens had his best night passing the football of this young season going 25-36 591 yards, 4 TD's and 1 interception. Nick was clean in the pocket most of the night to survey the field. He was very accurate, and his deep ball accuracy was as good I have seen it. Staggers rarely had to break stride while hauling in Nick's deep balls. Mullen's big night was good enough to break Austin Davis' single game passing record of 461 yards he set in 2008 versus Houston.
The Southern Miss defense was dominant for most of the evening, and downright intimidating in the first half, beating on the Rice quarterbacks to the tune of 5 first half sacks.The Nasty Bunch defense ended the evening registering 7 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. The Nasty Bunch currently ranks 11th in the country in total defense allowing a stingy 272.2 yards per contest. The next closest CUSA defenses is WKU's defense at #42 nationally allowing 360 yards per contest. Our way to the CUSA championship runs through our aggressive defense.
Dylan Bradley was again dominant at the point of attack. Dylan racked up 7 tackles and spent most of his evening in the face of the Rice quarterbacks, registering 3.5 sacks. The undeniable leader of the Nasty Bunch defense ranks 14th in the NCAA in sacks with 5, and 5th in the NCAA in tackles for loss at 9.5.
Curtis Mikell continues his surge as a talent to be reckoned with at corner, adding 8 tackles and 1 pass break up on the night.
What can I say about Alanzae Staggers. That was one of the most dominant displays by a USM receiver these eyes have ever seen. I am still stunned that the Rice defense did not leave a safety over the top to help the corner after Staggers burned them the first time. Rice was content to walk those safeties up to stop Ito, but Staggers punished their secondary to the tune of 292 yards and 3 touchdowns on only 6 receptions. Staggers' touchdowns went for 75,81,and 94 yards respectively. Staggers' night was good enough to eclipse Kendrick Lee's old record of 260 yards receiving that he hung on Houston back on November 11th 1996. Alanzae currently ranks 19th in the country in receiving 470 yards, 7 touchdowns for a ridiculous 27.6 yards per reception. Staggers currently ranks third in receiving yards in CUSA behind La Tech's Trent Taylor and WKU's Tawan Taylor. Staggers has obviously become Nick's go to guy.
Julian Allen showed the kind of receiving weapon he can be with his best night as a Golden Eagle, hauling in 3 passes for 101 yards. Allen, at close to 240 pounds showed off his impressive speed on a 82 yard catch and run from Mullens in the first half.
As good as Dylan Bradley was, DeNarious Antoine was equally impressive coming up from his safety position to blast Rice running backs. Antoine lead the Southern Miss defense with 11 tackles.
Obviously the Rice defense sold out in an attempt to hold down the USM running attack. It took all they had to hold Ito Smith to his lowest rushing total of the season of 79 yards. Smith was still a threat pilling up 141 all purpose yards and key for Nick in the play action pass game.
Parker Shaunfield is now an impressive 8 for 8 on field goals. That figure ties him with Corey Acosta who started out the season 8 for 8 back in 2014.
Obviously the turn overs are a huge concern. Being generous with the pig skin has already cost Southern Miss a game to Troy on this young season. The Eagles currently rank 114th nationally in turn over margin at -5. We all know that this must be cleaned up and pronto.
The Southern Miss defense got worked a little in the run game during the 3rd quarter. The Eagle defense gave up 132 yards on 19 carries to Rice running back Samuel Stewart. Most of the yardage coming in the second half, with Stewart popping the Eagles on touchdown runs of 24 and 17 yards. Coach Hopson mention during his post game presser that the defense was not gap sound at times in the second half. I personally think the defense might have been a little weary going into the second half after being on the field most of the first half of play. USM is not deep up front and being left out on the field for extended periods can sometimes prove to be a liability. Time of possession in the first half was 18:29 to 11:31 in Rice's favor.
Nothing to see here people. Now let's go get one in San Antonio. The Runners will be rested and ready for the Eagles after a bye week.