Southern Miss

Southern Miss QB Nick Mullens returns to practice, status uncertain

ttisbell@sunherald.com

Nick Mullens has not been demoted.

The Southern Miss record-setting quarterback has not played since he was taken out of the Charlotte game on Nov. 5, and the Golden Eagles lost that game and have fallen in two straight games since then.

True freshman Keon Howard has been the quarterback in those games and while some may think that USM head coach Jay Hopson is trying to get him experience for the future, Hopson said Monday that Mullens did not play because of health issues.

The USM football medical staff thinks Mullens, who is the career passing leader at Southern Miss, is still suffering from a blow to the head suffered in the Charlotte game.

When asked Monday why Mullens did not play in Saturday’s 29-23 loss to North Texas, Hopson said, “He wasn’t cleared medically.”

Backup quarterback Parker Adamson also was hurt in the Charlotte game and has not played since due to an injury, leaving that position to Howard, who would have been redshirted had it not been for the two injuries.

Howard has committed nine turnovers in the two games.

Mullens’ availability for this week’s game is still up in the air.

“Nick practiced (Sunday) night,” Hopson said. “We’ll see how that plays out. Hopefully, he’ll be good to go.”

Southern Miss will host Conference USA West Division champion Louisiana Tech at 3 p.m. Friday at M.M. Roberts Stadium, in the final regular-season football game of the season.

Louisiana Tech is 8-3 overall and 6-1 in Conference USA and is riding a seven-game winning streak. Its only conference loss was to Middle Tennessee while its two non-conference losses were to Arkansas 21-20 and Texas Tech 59-45.

The Golden Eagles are 5-6 overall and 3-4 in league action. The only way USM, which has lost five of its last six games, can become bowl eligible is to defeat Tech on Friday. Otherwise, its season is over.

“It’s been tough on (Mullens),” Hopson said. “He’s a competitor. He feels he could have made a difference. He wanted to play bad last week.”

Under NCAA concussion protocol, a player can resume playing only when medical personnel clear him.

This week’s depth chart lists “Nick Mullens or Keon Howard” as first string. But until Mullens is medically cleared, Howard will remain the starting quarterback.

“Keon is a football player,” Hopson said. “He’s going to be fine.”

Tough loss

Hopson called the defeat at North Texas “a tough loss, a heartbreaking loss.”

North Texas went ahead 20-0, USM battled back to tie the game 20-20 but the Mean Green went ahead again for the win.

“Nobody hurts more than I do,” Hopson said. “But that’s football. Now we’ve got to get ready for this week.”

Tragedy in Texas

Southern Miss offensive tackle Wil Freeman did not return with the team following the game as he was dealing with the death as his grandmother, Jo Gardner of Hattiesburg. Gardner, the wife of the late Hattiesburg High School football coach Buddy Gardner, was in Texas to visit relatives and go to the Southern Miss-North Texas game. Freeman stayed with relatives in Texas on Saturday and Sunday but returned to Hattiesburg on Monday.

Game plan

Who: Southern Miss vs. Louisiana Tech

When: 3 p.m., Friday

Where: Roberts Stadium, Hattiesburg

TV: ESPNews

Radio: 104.9 FM

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