Sports

Southern Miss offense puts up big numbers, breaks records in UTSA win

By ALAN HINTON

Special to the Sun Herald

TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALDSouthern Miss running back Ito Smith high steps his way down the sideline against UTSA, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALDSouthern Miss running back Ito Smith high steps his way down the sideline against UTSA, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015. SUN HERALD

HATTIESBURG — Jalen Richard ran for 115 yards in Southern Miss’ 32-10 Conference USA football victory over the UTSA Roadrunners Saturday night at M.M. Roberts Stadium.

And Ito Smith ran for 100 yards.

And D.J. Thompson caught six passes for 141 yards.

And Mike Thomas caught five passes for 103 yards.

That’s four players — not counting quarterback Nick Mullens, who passed for 343 yards — each with 100 yards or more of offense.

“We have good players,” Southern Miss coach Todd Monken said.

“It’s playmakers stepping up and making plays,” Thompson said. “Sometimes I tell Mike, ‘One-two punch, one-two punch.’ We want to win, and that’s our biggest objective.”

Thomas is doing his part. On Saturday, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound senior from Chicago became the first player in Southern Miss history to go over 100 yards in receptions in four straight games. Thomas had 121 yards against Nebraska, 155 against North Texas and 109 against Marshall.

That was news to Thomas, who wore his backpack to a postgame news conference.

“Really?” he asked. “That’s good. I’m proud of myself.”

UTSA took the opening kickoff and the USM defense stopped the Roadrunners cold on their first possession of the game. Then the Golden Eagles’ offense marched downfield and scored on a 47-yard touchdown pass from Mullens to Thomas with 12:35 left in the first quarter.

“He was blocking me,” Thomas said about a UTSA defensive back who had him covered pretty well. “Nick gave me an opportunity to get him out of the way and make the catch.”

That play set the offensive tone for the game, as the Golden Eagles kept pouring it on the rest of the game. Southern Miss finished with 556 yards of offense, an average of 7.41 yards per play.

Thompson also scored a touchdown, on a 5-yard pass with 10:37 to go in the second quarter. And Richard scored a TD, on a 1-yard run with 13:06 remaining in the game.

Last season, UTSA defeated USM 12-10 when the Eagles managed only 57 yards rushing on 25 carries in the game.

And this year? They had 213 yards rushing on 44 carries, an average of 4.8 yards per run.

“To have the night we had shows how much we’ve grown, how much the O-line has grown,” Richard said.

None of the offensive stars said it was a perfect game. Mullens threw three interceptions and Smith lost a fumble.

Other than that, though, it was a good night.

“This is a players’ game,” Monken said. “You do it for singing the fight song in the locker room, to see their smiles, to see all their hard work pay off. That’s why you do it.”

Southern Miss is now 4-3 overall — the first time it has reached four wins since 2011 — and 2-1 in Conference USA. Louisiana Tech and Rice also are at 2-1 and tied with USM for the top spot in the West Division.

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