Eight different Southern Miss players scored touchdowns in a 56-0 trouncing of Savannah State Saturday night at Roberts Stadium.
On a night of big plays, junior running back Ito Smith had the biggest of them all on a career-long 86-yard touchdown run on the final play of the second quarter, setting a stadium record for longest touchdown run. He reached the 100-yard mark for the second consecutive game, running eight times for 128 yards and a score.
The Golden Eagles, who led 49-0 at halftime, improved to 2-0 before a crowd of 29,539.
“We played pretty well (execution-wise),” USM head coach Jay Hopson said. “Adversity struck early (with a Nick Mullens interception). After a nice stop, we really picked it up and played really well. It was good to see that.”
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USM redshirt junior George Payne also cleared the 100-yard mark, running 14 times for 116 yards and one touchdown. Both Payne and Smith have reached 100 yards in the Eagles' first two games of the season.
The USM defense set a Conference USA record for fewest yards allowed with 41 yards given up to Savannah State, a struggling FCS program that has won only seven games since 2009.
The shutout was USM's first since beating Alcorn State 52-0 in the 2009 season opener.
The Golden Eagles put constant pressure on the Savannah State quarterbacks and finished with a total of five sacks.
“It was actually fun,” said defensive end Xavier Thigpen, who had one of those sacks. “We were telling each other, 'Either meet me there or beat me there.' It was a race to the quarterback. It was just pin our ears back and go.”
The Golden Eagles face a much more difficult task next week when they host a Troy squad that put up a strong challenge Saturday at No. 2 Clemson. The Tigers struggled to pull away, finishing with a 30-24 victory.
The Troy defense held strong early and Clemson narrowly won the offensive yardage battle, 414-386.
The Trojans, who beat Austin Peay 57-17 in the season opener, are 1-1.
“Anybody can beat anybody on any given day,” Mullens said. “I'll get in there tomorrow and start watching film. They're definitely a respectable opponent. Just being from Alabama I know a lot about the program. They always have a good program and they're always physical. It will definitely be a good contest for us here in 'The Rock.' We've just got to prepare and go and execute. It should be a very good game.”
Allenzae Staggers and Isaiah Jones, a pair of first-year transfers from East Mississippi Community College, also got in on the fun in the first half. Staggers gave USM its first punt return for a touchdown since 2011 on a 75-yarder and Jones pulled in a 65-yard touchdown pass from Mullens.
Mullens and many of his fellow starters took the bench before the game reached halftime. The wide disparity in talent between the two teams was obvious from the outset.
USM's 49 points at halftime tied the school record for points in a half. The previous two instances came against UAB in 2008 and 2013. USM out-gained SSU 420-9 in the first half.
Mullens threw an interception on his first pass of the game. It was an impressive pick by SSU linebacker Marquis Smith, who tipped the pass at the line of scrimmage and chased down the ball in the air.
Mullens recovered to complete 16-of-20 passes for 216 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
Redshirt junior Parker Adamson replaced Mullens and completed 5-of-9 passes for 30 yards and a score. He also ran six times for 28 yards.
USM had 615 yards on 79 plays. Savannah State (0-2) had 41 yards on 42 plays.
Jerry McCorvey, a senior defensive tackle from Vancleave, sat out Saturday's game after he left with an injury in the second half of the season opener. Pascagoula product Jauan Collins saw his first game
Pascagoula product Jauan Collins, a redshirt freshman defensive tackle, saw his first game action as a Golden Eagle. He entered the game at nose tackle in the second half and had one tackle.