Southern Miss

Even after 2-year hiatus, UAB football still has Southern Miss’ number

Southern Miss running back Ito Smith is tackled by UAB defensive lineman Shaq Jones during the game at M.M. Roberts Stadium Saturday.
Southern Miss running back Ito Smith is tackled by UAB defensive lineman Shaq Jones during the game at M.M. Roberts Stadium Saturday. Special to the Sun Herald

A week after piecing together an improbable rally at Louisiana Tech, the Southern Miss offense fell stone cold flat Saturday night against UAB.

The Blazers pulled away in the second half for a 30-12 victory over the Golden Eagles before a crowd of 19,101 - the season's smallest at Roberts Stadium.

USM (5-3, 3-2) continued its woes at home with all three of its losses coming at Roberts Stadium. The Eagles are 3-0 on the road.

"We just gave up a game that we weren't supposed to lose, hands down," USM senior defensive end Xavier Thigpen said. "We've got to execute. That's obvious that we lost a game we weren't supposed to lose."

Even after a two-year hiatus, UAB continued its run of success against the Golden Eagles with six wins in the last seven match-ups.

“It’s a huge win for us to go on the road against a rival in another conference game, a good team,” UAB head coach Bill Clark said. “To see our guys bounce back from a heart breaking loss last week and get the road win and really just do it in the fashion that we want to.”

UAB and Southern Miss (5-3, 3-2) are now in a tie for second place in the C-USA West. North Texas (5-3, 4-1) continues to lead the way in the division after beating Old Dominion 45-38 on Saturday.

"We didn't play well and put that on me," USM head coach Jay Hopson said. "We're certainly disappointed. You have to give UAB credit. They did a great job playing and coaching and deserved to win."

QB change

With the Eagles unable to get anything going in the second half, Hopson chose to replace Keon Howard with Kwadra Griggs at quarterback with 11:34 remaining.

Griggs, who is recovering from an injury to his left hand, showed some rust after seeing his first action since Sept. 30. He completed 5-of-13 passes for 59 yards and had one interception returned for a touchdown.

"He was knocking off a little rust," Hopson said. "He competed hard and had a nice (41-yard throw to Tim Jones). Again, I'll take all this one. At the end of the day, we've just got to get better."

Howard, who made his fourth consecutive start at quarterback, completed 14 of 25 passes for 207 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. A big chunk of his yardage came on an 84-yard touchdown toss to Ito Smith on the game's opening play.

Howard was 3-of-7 passing for 34 yards in the second half as the offense failed to move the ball consistently, converting just 5-of-17 third down chances in the game

"We struggled in the second half," Hopson said. "It was evident. Anytime you score zero in the second half and the ole pick six, it's not a good day at the office for sure. We'll have to get better next week."

Southern Miss, which was a 12-point favorite on Saturday, will stumble into its final non-conference game of the season when it travels to play Tennessee at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 4.

The Eagles hoped to earn bowl eligibility Saturday night, but it was the Blazers who moved one step closer to a spot in the postseason.

Poor rushing attack

USM had 219 yards at halftime and finished the game with 347 total. USM had no rushing yardage in the third quarter and finished with 81.

Smith finished with a season low of 12 rushes for 36 yards.

Hopson said that the UAB defense didn't do anything differently Saturday to slow down the USM ground game.

"That's something I'll look at more on film," he said. "They've done what they've done the previous weeks. We just didn't run the ball very well and didn't throw the ball very well today. We just struggled offensively.”

While USM struggled on the ground, UAB freshman running back Spencer Brown piled up 209 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries.

“It feels good, but I owe it all to my O-line,” Brown said. “Everything starts with them. You can’t run or pass without them blocking for you.”

UAB quarterback A.J. Erdely, a redshirt junior transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, completed 16 of 29 passes for 208 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

USM led 12-7 at halftime, but UAB moved down the field with ease on the opening drive of the second half, going 75 yards on 10 plays to take a 13-12 lead on a 1-yard run by Erdely.

It appeared early as if the points would come in bunches for both teams.

Howard connected with Smith, who was running wide open down the middle of the field, on an 84-yard touchdown pass on the first snap of the game. After a blocked extra point, Southern Miss held a 6-0 lead just 20 seconds into the game.

UAB responded with a 10-play, 79-yard drive that lasted 3:49. Spencer Brown's 2-yard touchdown run gave the Blazers a 7-6 lead at the 10:51 mark of the first quarter.

All Southern Miss could manage the rest of the first half were 25- and 31-yard field goals by Parker Shaunfield.

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333, @Patrick_Magee