Southern Miss

Special teams mistakes prove costly for Southern Miss

Southern Miss receivers struggled catching the ball in the first half with a steady rain falling. Isiah Jones dropped this pass in the end zone in Hattiesburg.
Southern Miss receivers struggled catching the ball in the first half with a steady rain falling. Isiah Jones dropped this pass in the end zone in Hattiesburg. ttisbell@sunherald.com

Southern Miss’ special teams played an exciting role in Saturday night’s 37-31 loss to the Troy Trojans.

But a lot of the excitement on those plays came about because of misplays by the Golden Eagles.

On the good side, place-kicker Parker Shaunfield kicked a field goal. In his only try from 3-point land, Shaunfield booted a 41-yard field goal with 14:47 to play in the second quarter. Shaunfield also kicked all four of his extra-point attempts.

And Tyler Sarrazin’s punts — all eight of them — were nice, especially in conditions that were rainy for the first part of the game. Sarrazin punted for a 45-yard average in the Golden Eagles’ first loss of the season, which came after two wins. USM even downed one of the punts at the Troy 1-yard line.

But on the bad side, there were some plays that Southern Miss would love to have back.’

In the first quarter, kickoff returner Isaiah Jones fumbled a kickoff and Troy recovered at the USM 29-yard line. Two plays later, the Trojans scored a touchdown.

In the second quarter, on a punt attempt, Sarrazin was tackled before he got the kick off because of a bad snap.

In the third quarter, Troy pooched a kickoff. Jay’Shawn Washington tried to catch it but was hit hard and never got possession of the football. Golden Eagle Isaiah Spencer recovered the ball, but at the USM 13-yard line.

Also in the third quarter, Southern Miss lined up at the USM 43 on fourth down and 7 to go for a first down as if to punt, but Sarrazin took the snap and took off around the left side. He picked up six yards, but that was one yard short of a first down.

There also was a false start on one punt.

All in all, too many mistakes.

“I thought, in (the wet) conditions, there was not a special teams that really stood out,” said head coach Jay Hopson, who lost his first game at Southern Miss. “Kickoff returns, we had a few decent ones right there. The punt team played well. We had a few down inside the 5 or one down there that was really good.”

Hopson showed he has a little bit of a riverboat gambler in him when he called for the fake punt. And although the result was not what he wanted, he made no excuses for calling it.

“I just felt like we needed something,” Hopson said. “I never apologize for playing to win. Sometimes it goes, sometimes it doesn’t. I thought we had a good call.

“Woz (special teams coordinator John Wozniak) worked on it a lot this week and I thought it was there and it was there. We just didn’t execute it to the best. It was real close but it was a good thing because when you look back on it, it was there.”

Golden Eagle quarterback Nick Mullens said the poor field position caused by the special teams mistakes did not bother him.

“You’ve got to accept wherever the ball is,” Mullens said. “That shouldn’t affect you as an offense. You can’t let it affect you.”

Mullens is right, but it didn’t help matters, either.

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