Southern Miss

Troy stuns Southern Miss in Hattiesburg

By Patrick Magee

pmagee@sunherald.com

Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens is hit as he releases the ball by Troy linebacker William Lloyd in Hattiesburg.
Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens is hit as he releases the ball by Troy linebacker William Lloyd in Hattiesburg. ttisbell@sunherald.com

A Southern Miss football season that showed so much promise after a win in the opener at Kentucky was suddenly sidetracked on a soggy Saturday night at Roberts Stadium.

Troy out-played USM in nearly every facet of the game to take a 37-31 victory before an announced crowd of 27,905.

Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens wasn't kind in his assessment of himself and his teammates.

"We deserved that loss," he said. "We didn't prepare hard enough. We've got to lock in more in practice. We deserved every bit of that loss. There's no way around it. We've got to prepare harder, work harder. We've got to hold each other to a higher standard.

Mullens had arguably his worst game as the USM quarterback since the 2014 season. He completed 24 of 52 passes for 263 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

The Troy defense was the strongest group on the field, keeping Mullens and the rest of the offense in check for the majority of the game.

Mullens said the Troy defense didn't offer anything differently than what he had noticed on film.

"We got what we expected, some zone and a little bit of man, but not too much," Mullens said. "They moved around a little bit up front, everything we expected.

"You're supposed to make the plays you're supposed to make. If you're a receiver, I'm supposed to throw it and they're supposed to catch it. Running backs run. If you make the plays you're supposed to make, you should have a lot of success. Right now we're not making the plays you're supposed to make."

Even with all the struggles, USM had a chance to win the game with 3 seconds remaining and the ball at the Troy 9.

USM (2-1) got the ball back at its own 22 with 1:33 remaining in the game. Mullens pushed the team 69 yards on nine plays, setting up the one last try at the end zone.

After USM and Troy both called timeouts, Mullens failed to connect with a crossing Isaiah Jones in the end zone with the ball deflecting off a Troy defensive back and falling incomplete.

"A guy got underneath that route and I probably could have made a little better throw," Mullens said. "At that point, you're just trying to make the best play and hope it works out."

The incomplete pass set off a celebration for Troy with players rushing toward the end zone.

"That's a big win. That's a quality football opponent," Troy head coach Neal Brown said. "They're a team that plays as hard on video as anybody we've played in my two years here as a head coach.

"This is the biggest win, maybe, since the 2010 bowl game. I'm proud of everyone that's involved with our program."

Troy redshirt senior running back Jordan Chunn was the MVP of the night, constantly pounding the Southern Miss defense up the middle. He ran 36 times for 176 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown that pushed the Troy lead to 34-24 at the 6:12 mark of the third quarter.

"It's frustrating when you're not executing to the highest levels, missed assignments, not great gap integrity," USM senior defensive tackle Dylan Bradley said. "It's frustrating. We've got to go back in tomorrow and next week and correct our mistakes."

USM out-gained Troy 421-309, but the Golden Eagles never found a rhythm on offense and could only rely on the occasional big play.

Troy led 24-10 late in the second quarter, but the Golden Eagles managed to work their way back in the game with a rare burst of offense.

Following a missed Troy field goal with 1:12 left in the first half, Southern Miss responded with a seven-play, 78-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard touchdown run by Smith with 8 seconds remaining before the break.

On the first snap of the second half, Smith ran 70 yards for the touchdown to tie it at 24-24.

USM's next possession ended with Mullens being intercepted by Josh Marshall at midfield, sending the Golden Eagles back into a downward spiral on offense.

USM's struggles were compounded by penalty after penalty in crucial situations. USM was called for 16 penalties for 135 yards. Troy committed 10 for 70 yards.

"I'm not going to say I agreed with every one of them though, to be honest with you," USM head coach Jay Hopson said. "The reality is it was just a tough game. We started off, it seemed like everything that could go wrong, did in the first half. Give Troy credit, but as a football coach you felt with all the turnovers and miscues you shot yourself in the foot."

USM turned the ball over three times had a handful of miscues on special teams, including an errant snap on a punt that set Troy up at the USM 10 midway through the first quarter, leading to a field goal that made it 17-7.

USM junior running back Ito Smith was the bright spot on offense, running 20 times for 131 yards and two touchdowns. He reached the 100-yard mark for the third consecutive game and scored a touchdown for the seventh straight contest.

USM senior safety Devonta Foster started the scoring with a 61-yard interception return for a touchdown at the 11:24 mark of the first quarter, but the Eagles struggled to keep momentum throughout the game.

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