Southern Miss

‘Leaping’ call in Tennessee game sends Southern Miss coach into a fury

Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson exchanges words with game officials during the game against Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday.
Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson exchanges words with game officials during the game against Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday. Associated Press

The Southern Miss football team didn't do enough to win Saturday night's game 24-10 game at Tennessee, but the SEC officiating crew did the Golden Eagles no favors.

USM was called for 14 penalties for 120 yards while Tennessee had just three for 29 yards.

Tennessee's first penalty didn't come until the 11:26 mark of the fourth quarter. At that point, USM had already been called for 12 penalties for 105 yards.

The first questionable call of the night came in the first quarter when Tennessee safety Nigel Warrior appeared to hit USM quarterback Keon Howard in the helmet on a nice run up the middle.

The SEC officials reviewed the play, but it was determined that there was no targeting call because Howard was "slipping" at the end of the run, according to the SEC Network broadcast crew.

Despite a penalty-laden first half for USM, Tennessee only led 10-3 at the half.

The call that drew the most heat Saturday night came with less than 4 minutes remaining in the third quarter when USM senior defensive end Xavier Thigpen was called for "leaping" on a successful field goal try by Tennessee (4-5).

The call gave Tennessee a first down and eventually a John Kelly rushing touchdown to go up 24-3 with 3:17 left in the third quarter.

USM head coach Jay Hopson immediately questioned the officiating crew on the call. And once he saw the replay on the videoboard, the Vicksburg native became livid and was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after he rushed back toward the middle of the field to challenge the referee.

The replay showed that Thigpen essentially jumped straight up and made no contact with no other player.

Barrett Sallee of CBS Sports tweeted that the SEC declined to comment on the "leaping" call.

USM fans and national observers alike questioned the performance of the SEC officiating crew, but a lack of offense for much of the game likely lost the game for the Golden Eagles.

USM sophomore quarterback Keon Howard was held to just seven completions on 22 attempts for 100 yards and one interception. Senior running back Ito Smith ran 20 times for just 51 yards.

Kwadra Griggs replaced Howard at quarterback in the fourth quarter played well, leading USM (5-4) on a 95-yard touchdown drive.

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333, @Patrick_Magee

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