Kentucky tight end C.J. Conrad found a seam in the Southern Miss defense a couple of times in the first half Saturday at M.M. Roberts Stadium.
The first one, from Wildcat quarterback Stephen Johnson, went for 59 yards. The second one went for 23 yards and a touchdown.
The bad news for the Golden Eagles was that Kentucky won the season-opening football game 24-17.
The good news was that they shut down that play totally in the second half and actually played a good all-round defensive game.
“On the whole, it was a strong defensive game,” Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson said.
The final stats bear that out.
Kentucky managed only 12 first downs in the game. The Wildcats rushed 35 times for only 78 yards. They completed 11 of 20 passes for 176 yards and had only 254 yards total offense.
Southern Miss held talented Kentucky running back Benny Snell to only 67 yards on 20 carries.
Most of all, the Golden Eagles didn’t give up a lot of big plays.
“For the most part defensively, I thought the Nasty Bunch played pretty physical and did a good job of stopping the run,” Hopson said. “(Snell) is a really good football player and we did a pretty good job of keeping him corralled.”
Free safety Tarvarius Moore led Southern Miss in total tackles with eight, coming on five solos and three assists. Linebacker Racheem Boothe was next with seven total tackles, three solos. Rover Jomez Applewhite and mike linebacker Sherrod Ruff were next with six tackles.
Ruff had the only USM sack of the game, although Boothe, Applewhite, tackle Rod Crayton and defensive end Jacques Turner of D’Iberville were all in on tackles for losses.
“As a defense as a whole, I think we played extremely hard,” Moore said. “One of our goals of the day, no matter what adversity comes, we were going to have to go through difference challenges, we just wanted to play hard and leave it all out on the field and I felt we did that.
“We had a couple of miscues but I felt like we corrected them in the second half and it showed.”
Those “miscues” — the catches by the Kentucky tight end — were all about the eyes. The Eagles took their eyes off him and were looking elsewhere.
“We got our eyes away from our guy right there,” Hopson said. “The first time it didn’t hurt us as much because we got a turnover the next play, but the second one wound up going to the house for a touchdown. If there were two plays I wasn’t happy with defensively, it would be those two.”
“I would say we were too zoned in on the run, as far as the back end, the safeties,” Moore said. “They were getting behind us a little bit. In the second half we just kept our eyes on the man and put a little more trust in our d-line. It paid off.”
Of Kentucky’s 24 points, one touchdown came on a USM fumble and 20-yard return and a field goal came after a fake Southern Miss punt that didn’t work, giving the Wildcats a short field.
So really, the Golden Eagle defense did pretty well.
That sits good with Moore.
“Having a great defense is something we take great pride in at Southern Miss,” he said.