It was a beautiful day at the Rock for senior day 2016. The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs came in to Hattiesburg riding a seven game win streak and was a 15.5 point favorite and playing for home field advantage for the CUSA championship game next weekend. In the end, the Golden Eagles shocked the Bulldogs in a 39-24 stunner in which the Golden Eagles controlled the contest from start to finish.
This could take a while. For the first time this season USM played a complete game. Getting it done in all four quarters. The Eagles won in all fazes of the contest. The offense rolled up 431 yards of offense, while committing only one turnover. It was a superbly called football game for Shannon Dawson, as the offense worked the perimeter passing game early stretching out the Tech defense. Julian Allen's blocking was key in the success the offense found early in the perimeter passing game.
La. Tech came into the contest leading the conference in sacks. To slow down the tech pass rush the offense got the screen game to Ito Smith going. Then Nick Mullens proceeded to surgically pick the Bulldogs secondary apart to the tune of 342 yards going 29-33, with three touchdown passes, and no interceptions. Mullens set a Roberts stadium record for a completion percentage with 87.8%. The offensive line played their best game of the year giving Nick a clean pocket most of the afternoon, and paved the way on the ground for Ito Smith's 127 yards on 24 carries. Smith added 63 yards on four receptions for 190 yards of total offense.
The La Tech offense came into the Rock on a roll, with a national ranking of 2nd in scoring offense, and 4th in total offense. The Southern Miss defense held Tech's vaunted offense to a total of only eight yards rushing, and 254 total yards of offense. Southern Miss played games with their defensive fronts, while successfully disguising coverages in the secondary confusing the La Tech offensive coordinator as well as La Tech QB Ryan Higgins. Higgins and company could never figure out where pressure was coming from as USM controlled the line of scrimmage all day long. The USM defense confused and frustrated Higgins into three huge interceptions. Today the Southern Miss defense was special. They created turnovers and for the first time all season played the majority of the game in favorable field position.
I personally thought that the linebackers played their best game collectively. Having Sherrod Ruff and Elijah Parker on the field together was huge, They were great in coverage, tackled well, and were disruptive in the Tech backfield. The big plays that had haunted the Southern Miss defense all season were no where absent Saturday. Backers got off of blocks and controlled gaps, and the corners were good in coverage all day. Curtis Mikell and Cornell Armstrong were on point al afternoon. With the great play of the linebackers, the safeties were never exposed in the run game. It was a great team effort. They played as a cohesive unit and were assignment sound.
Ito Smith now sits at 1,321 yards rushing on the season, passing Sam Dejarnette for fourth place all time in Southern Miss history for total yards rushing in a career. D.J Thompson was key in the passing game hauling in 12 passes for 135 yards an two touchdowns. D.J. showed great hands beating the Tech corners across their face over and over agin on the slant. His long touchdown reception early was a thing of beauty beating the corner deep with a nice double move. It was truly a great senior day for Thompson. His absence the past two weeks really crippled the USM passing attack. Korey Robertson followed up Thompson's tremendous performance with one of his own. Robertson caught six passes for 47 yards and a huge touchdown. Robertson's consistency catching the football was quite the elixir for the Southern Miss offense. You add in Alanzae Staggers performance and it was the first time all season that Mullens had three receivers that he could count on to catch the football throughout a game all season. When the USM receivers catch the football, while eliminating the costly turnovers this offense can put up points on anybody. Saturday the USM offense rolled up 431 yards and was six for six scoring in the red zone. They finally found four quarters of consistency.
Even the special teams stepped up on this day setting up the USM offense with nice field position averaging 33 yards on kickoff returns. Fielding and successfully returning punts saved valuable field position for the USM offense. The placement on kickoffs was excellent, keeping the ball out of the hands of one of the nations most dangerous kickoff return men in burner Carlos Henderson. Senior Tyler Sarrazin went out with a bang averaging 59 yards per punt, while burying one inside the 20. Lack of field position has haunted this team offensively and defensively all season. Saturday the special teams had their best overall performance of the season being key in USM controlling valuable field position throughout the contest. Huge.
What a day for Picasso Nelson Jr. He not only led the defense in tackles with 9, but added two huge interceptions. Cornell Armstrong added a valuable pick of his own, on his way to his most complete performance of the season.
The bad was the choice that the La Tech football team made in calling out the Golden Eagles through print media, in an article out of the Shreveport rag, reporting that the Bulldogs were going to come into Hattiesburg and embarrass the Golden Eagles. Dumb idea. This article made it's way through the Southern Miss locker room all week long. The USM players were pissed for lack of a better word, and they played like it for four quarters Saturday. Angry and totally focussed. Real Bad idea on Tech's part.
The Ugly almost occurred when the Tech players decided to hang around on the field after the game. Several Bulldog players foolishly decided to walk up in to the middle of the USM team celebration. Things just about popped off. It would have been ugly.
It has been a roller coaster season to be sure. Yesterdays victory was a sweet salve for the nasty wound that had been the second half of the Southern Miss football season. The Golden Eagles are now bowl eligible, which is huge on many levels. It is huge for recruiting. It is huge having almost an extra month to work youngsters that will be counted on next season. It is a nice present for a wounded fan base, and a great way to send off your seniors. It will be interesting to see if this convincing victory aides USM;s recruiting efforts, as well as possibly saving the jobs of assistants that might have been on the chopping block. It has been a crazy ride this football season. This weekly article was much like this season. Sometimes fun to write and sometimes not so much. Ha, Hope you guys enjoyed. Now let's go bowling!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!