Note: Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson was quoted incorrectly on the status of quarterback Nick Mullens in a previous version of this story. Transcribed quotes released by Old Dominion following Saturday’s game misquoted the head coach. The release quoted Hopson as saying, “Nick was okay, but we thought it was best to keep him out and we had a good feeling going with Keon in today’s game.” The quote should have said: “Nick was out. We just felt it was best to keep it under wraps. We had a good feeling going with Keon and he played a really good game.”
A once promising Southern Miss football season suffered another major blow on the road Saturday.
Old Dominion topped USM 51-35 in Norfolk, Va., to hand the Golden Eagles their fourth loss in the last five games.
The loss eliminated USM (5-5, 3-3) from contention in the Conference USA West, giving Louisiana Tech (8-3, 6-1) a spot in the Dec. 3 C-USA title game.
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USM attempted a second half rally behind true freshman quarterback Keon Howard, but a safety on a sack of freshman quarterback Howard midway through the fourth put a halt to USM's momentum and gave Old Dominion a 44-28 lead with 7:44 remaining.
Howard finished 12-of-24 passing for 230 yards and one interception on a dropped pass by receiver Isaiah Jones. Howard was at his best running the ball with 28 carries for 98 yards and one touchdown.
The glaring problem for Howard was his carelessness with the football. He lost the ball four times on fumbles, including one recovered for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Howard's first four turnovers were converted into 28 points by the Monarchs.
With starting quarterback Nick Mullens and backup Parker Adamson injured during last week's 37-26 loss to Charlotte, USM head coach Jay Hopson chose to go with Howard behind center. The staff originally planned to sit Howard this season in order to receive a redshirt, but he will now have just three years of eligibility remaining.
Hopson said that Mullens “was out” and that the staff decided to keep it under wraps this week.
“We had a good feeling going with Keon and he played a really good game,” Hopson said. “It was his first start. I though he had a lot of positive stuff so I was real proud of him."
Hopson declined to say whether Howard would be his starter the rest of the way.
"I’m not going to get into all of that yet but I am just happy that he played well and he is going to be a hell of a player," Hopson said. "I guess that is one thing I can be happy about is signing Keon Howard."
USM's top receiver, Allenzae Staggers, suspended for the first half for what Hopson described as a violation of team rules.
Howard ran the ball well, but he lost fumbles on scrambles on the first two drives of the game. Howard also threw an interception in the first quarter, helping give the Monarchs a 21-0 lead with 3:58 left in the first quarter.
USM junior running back Ito Smith surpassed the 1,000-yard mark on Saturday and finished with 20 carries for 97 yards and three touchdowns. Smith has scored a touchdown in 15 consecutive games.
While Howard proved careless with the ball, ODU senior quarterback David Washington showed his experience with an efficient night. He completed 12 of 18 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
Jeremy Cox ran four times for 77 yards and two touchdowns, including a 67-yarder, to lead ODU (7-3, 5-1) in rushing. Ray Lawy had 17 carries for 71 yards and two scores.
Marquise Ricard was USM's top receiver with three catches for 84 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown on Howard's first career touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
Southern Miss has its best chance to get its sixth win and reach bowl eligibility when it travels to North Texas (4-6, 2-4) for a 4:30 p.m. game this upcoming Saturday.
Information from a Hattiesburg American report was used in this story.