HATTIESBURG — Most everybody associated with the Southern Miss football team got pats on the back for their 34-7 Conference USA victory over UTEP on Saturday night.
There was talk of a big win, a hard-fought win, a win that gave the team a 3-1 record, and only one turnover.
But Golden Eagle offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson was having none of it.
“We played about a quarter and a half of football,” Dawson said Monday.
Then when asked to expound on that, he did, and he didn’t pull any punches.
“The first drive, we were successful,” he said. “The second quarter we really started rolling. We had close to 160-170 yards, which was good. But I don’t think we handled the lead very well. It was 24-7, which doesn’t mean the game is over. But I did get a sense, in the locker room (at halftime), that this is easy. Whenever you start thinking that we got this, that this is easy, you’re going to have a problem.”
In the second half of its first Conference USA game of the season, the Southern Miss offense scored only once, on a 46-yard field goal by Parker Shaunfield early in the fourth quarter.
“We went out in the third quarter and had three very successful plays — 10 yards, 9 yards, and on that play we fumbled we had a 20-yard gain, and then we fumbled it,” Dawson said. “Bad ball security. From that point, UTEP gets the ball, they go all the way down to the 1-yard line. The mojo of the game is about to flip.
“Our defense makes a great play. And so they pick it and go 100 yards, which was the play of the game. But then, (the Miners) get the ball back. They’re using up more clock. And so there was about 7 or so minutes clock time that we weren’t on the field. So our defense is out there for a long time. Then when we get the ball back, we get in a third-and-2 and don’t execute. So the third quarter we ran seven plays. Which is not good.”
The Golden Eagle defense, for the third time in four games, somehow shut out UTEP in the second half.
It was a yeoman’s effort, said the USM offensive coordinator, despite the offense not helping them.
“Our defense is worn out,” Dawson said. “They’re tired. They’ve been playing their tails off. We’re trying to grind the clock out. We’re trying to get home. So I thought that the third quarter, we came out, had a mishap and it changed the flow of the game.
“You’ve got to take care of the ball.”
Players of the week
Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson said his Players of the Week were running back Ito Smith (16 carries for 108 yards and one touchdown) on offense, cornerback Curtis Mikell (two interceptions, one of which he returned 100 yards for a TD) and place-kicker Shaunfield (34- and 46-yard field goals and four extra points).
Smith ranks third in the nation in rushing yardage with 540. San Diego State's Donnel Pumphfrey ranks first with 599 yards and Aaron Jones of UTEP is second with 566.
Southern Miss will host Rice at 6 p.m. Saturday at M.M. Roberts Stadium.
The Eagles beat the Owls 65-10 last year in Houston.
Rice is 0-4, having lost 46-14 to Western Kentucky, 31-14 to Army, 38-10 to Baylor and 42-35 in overtime to North Texas.
Eagle Walk will be held at 4 p.m.
Quote of the Week
Defensive back Curtis Mikell, who returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown against UTEP, was asked why players from Bassfield were such fast runners.
“They say it’s in the water,” said the junior who is nicknamed “Speedy.”