Opposing defensive coordinators will now have something else to account for in preparations for the Southern Miss offense the rest of the season.
USM found mixed success on the ground through the first two games, relying exclusively on two running backs, Ito Smith and T'Rod Daniels. When USM offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson threw quarterback Kwadra Griggs into the mix on Saturday in a 28-17 win at Louisiana-Monroe, the Eagles were better for it.
USM (2-1) ran 48 times for 284 yards and one touchdown as a team, the most yards on the ground for USM against FBS competition since putting up 310 against Old Dominion in Hattiesburg on Nov. 21, 2015.
Griggs gashed the Warhawks 10 times for 63 yards in the first half, including a run of 20 yards. The redshirt junior finished with 14 carries for 57 yards due to a couple of second-half sacks.
Senior running back Ito Smith set a new career high with 27 carries for 219 yards and one touchdown.
Griggs was at his best in the first quarter, running two times for 32 yards on the game's opening drive.
ULM was determined to slow down Smith early on, but Griggs' success helped free up Smith.
Griggs and Smith showed that they can work of each other in the ground game.
“Ito is always going going to be Ito,” Griggs said. “He's always got good cut back, good vision. The one he scored on, I thought I was going to block for him but he made me look crazy. Ito is a great running back and he'll continue to get better going forward.”
Griggs has proven up to the task at quarterback so far with Smith playing the role of cheerleader.
“He's doing a great job,” Smith said. “I'm just back there talking to him mostly keeping him positive throughout the game, telling him to not be too anxious and take what the defense gives him.”
USM hosts North Texas (1-2) at 6 p.m. on Sept. 30 to begin C-USA play.
Griggs threw his first interception of the season on Saturday, but he is still in good standing as far as passing efficiency.
He has completed 47 of 81 passes for 681 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception, putting his efficiency rating at 154.7.
Griggs ranks 37th in the nation in passing efficiency, one spot behind USC's Sam Darnold (154.9) and five spots ahead of Louisville's Lamar Jackson (151.0).
There are a couple of concerns for USM going forward.
One, the Golden Eagles have to do a better job of creating turnovers. USM forced a total of one turnover in the ULM and Kentucky games.
Two, USM has to avoid committing so many penalties.
USM has committed 25 penalties for 268 yards this season to rank 105th in the nation in penalty yardage.
Penalties likely kept at least two touchdowns off the scoreboard for USM on Saturday.
“We did fine. I just think we've got to cut down on the penalties,” Smith said. “We had a couple of drives that stalled because we had penalties.”
The Southern Miss baseball team will play host to Georgia Southern on March 9-11 in Hattiesburg, giving USM another strong non-conference series for the 2018 campaign.
The series was revealed when Georgia Southern, which is coming off a 38-21 season, announced its new schedule on Wednesday.
USM will open the 2018 season with a three-game home series against Mississippi State on Feb. 16-18.
C-USA hires USM alum
Conference USA announced Monday that it has hired Southern Miss graduate Shonna Brown as Associate Commissioner for Business Affairs/CFO.
Brown, who will serve as a senior member of the C-USA staff, will start on Oct. 10 and handle all financial, human resources and ticketing operations.
The Hattiesburg native joins the C-USA staff after serving as the deputy commissioner of the America East Conference. She served as interim commissioner for the America East in 2011.
Brown has also worked for the NCAA, Mid-American Conference, the Patriot League and the Miami Dolphins. She worked in the compliance and football operations departments at USM from 1996-2001.