A reshuffled offensive line and a freshman running back making his first career start allowed USM to find new life on offense Saturday night at Roberts Stadium.
The Golden Eagles picked up a 27-17 victory over UTSA to push their record back to .500 at 3-3 overall and 2-1 in Conference USA play.
Redshirt senior running back Tez Parks didn’t make the start as usual, standing on the sideline with a protective boot on his foot.
Parks’ absence allowed freshman Trivenskey Mosley to receive his first career start and he delivered by far the best performance by a USM running back this season. He ran 26 times for 142 yards, eclipsing USM’s previous team high in a game against FBS competition for 2018 — 138 against Rice.
“He’s a huge playmaker,” USM quarterback Jack Abraham said. “He’ll make you miss in the open and he’ll get in there and get shifty inside. We’ll definitely get him the ball a lot more.”
USM was determined to make the ground game work Saturday night. Of the team’s first 21 offensive plays, only seven were passes. For the game, it was 33 passes and 46 runs. The Eagles had 218 yards total on the ground.
USM head coach Jay Hopson was pleased with the play of his reworked offensive line.
“They moved well, ran block well,” the third-year coach said. “Sometimes, competition is a great thing. I thought the O-line did a great job and Trivenskey is getting better and better.”
USM’s starting offensive line had two first-time starters in right tackle sophomore Paul Gainer, a Gautier product, and sophomore right guard Bryce Foxworth.
Redshirt junior Drake Dorebeck shifted from right tackle to left, redshirt sophomore Arvin Fletcher moved from left guard to center and redshirt junior Ty Pollard made the start at left guard after playing the first five games at right guard.
Freshman Trace Clopton, who started the first five games at center, didn’t make the start after missing most of the week with an injury, but he was healthy enough to be inserted at center later in the second half.
The changes were significant on the O-line and they provided immediate results.
“The offensive line was dialed in,” Mosley said. “They came out and executed. All credit goes to them.”
Biloxi product Tim Jones provided more proof Saturday that he is emerging as a star in the USM receiving corps.
The sophomore set a career high with seven catches for 107 yards with a long of 29.
“Tim is one of those all-purpose receivers,” Hopson said. “He can block and he can catch. He’s got good speed. Tim is a dependable guy. You want that guy that can do it all and he can do it all.”
Abraham, who completed 28 of 33 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown, also sang Jones’ praises.
“Since I’ve been here, he’s been one of the more trustworthy guys,” Abraham said. “He’s going to be in the right spot at the right time.”
The only downside for Southern Miss on Saturday were three second-half turnovers that gave UTSA (3-5, 2-2) a chance to get back in the game.
Redshirt senior tight end Jay’Shawn Washington fumbled away a reception at the UTSA 47 with 10:05 left in the third quarter, setting up a five-play, 53-yard drive that resulted in a 2-yard touchdown toss from UTSA freshman quarterback Jordan Weeks to Greg Campbell Jr.
USM senior receiver Jordan Mitchell also fumbled at the UTSA 30 and the Roadrunners later reversed the field with an impressive 58-yard punt by Yannis Routsas to push USM back to its own 2.
The most costly turnover happened when UTSA’s C.J. Levine picked off Abraham at the USM 8 and returned the interception for a touchdown, cutting the USM lead to 27-17 with 14:53 remaining.
Abraham said the pass was tipped at the line.
First start for Gautier product
Gainer saw some playing time as a freshman last year, including three quarters against Kentucky in the season opener, but he was mostly relegated to the bench.
Gainer received the start Saturday and finished off the game at right tackle.
He said he was called in by the coaching staff on Monday and informed that there were likely changes coming along the offensive front.
Abraham gave the sophomore high marks.
“I thought he did a great job, handled the spot well,” he said. “He did what we expect him to do.”