The Southern Miss football team turned a hard-fought battle into a runaway 38-10 victory over Alcorn State Saturday night at Roberts Stadium.
Redshirt sophomore receiver Jaylond Adams provided the spark that USM needed with a kickoff return for a touchdown to start the game and a punt return for another TD in the fourth quarter.
On offense, USM again relied heavily on redshirt junior quarterback Jack Abraham and the passing game. He completed 18 of 28 passes for 293 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The Alcorn State offense and quarterback Noah Johnson made the USM defense put in the work for the victory, but the Braves struggled to come up with a big strike. USM held ASU to 219 yards with Johnson completing 17 of 31 passes for 143 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
The announced crowd at Roberts Stadium was 31,706 with plenty of Alcorn State fans making the trip.
USM takes a big step up in competition when it travels to take on Mississippi State (1-0) at 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 7.
Abraham, an Oxford native, flashed a grin after the game when asked about the trip to Starkville.
“I’m excited. It’s going to be fun,” he said. “This one was a fun one and I know next week is going to be even better. I’m obviously a Mississippi guy so I’m going take this a little more personal than some guys, but I’m ready to get out there and play some ball.”
Here are some takeaways from the game:
▪ No Quez: USM was without its All-Conference USA receiver in redshirt junior Quez Watkins, who is being held out of the first two games for unspecified reasons.
With USM’s main big-play threat sidelined, it was Adams who stepped up to be the game-changer for the Golden Eagles Saturday night.
He started off the game with an 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and he put the game to rest with an 80-yard punt return for a TD with 12:40 left in the game.
“Without the guys (blocking) on those units, it wouldn’t have been possible,” Adams said. “It just felt great being back out there with those guys coming off a season-ending injury.”
In the passing game, it was redshirt senior Neil McLaurin who stepped up with the big play on a 55-yard touchdown reception with 8:26 left in the third quarter to put USM back in charge at 21-7.
“It was third and long and were just trying to take a shot,” Abraham said. “I knew Neil was going to beat him. I knew he was going to give me a chance. I’d throw it up there and let him make a play. He made a great play on the ball and the guy fell down. It was perfect.”
Redshirt senior Jordan Mitchell had seven catches for 133 yards and junior Tim Jones pulled in five passes for 68 yards.
▪ Not much push: After failing to run the ball well for much of 2018, the Golden Eagles again struggled to generate much of a push up front on Saturday.
USM had only 10 rushes for 6 yards in the first half and finished with 96 yards on 31 carries.
Freshman Dee Baker led USM in rushing with eight carries for 35 yards and Abraham had the lone rushing score on a 14-yard run late in the third quarter.
The starting O-line for USM was right tackle Tanner Hawthorne, right guard Arvin Fletcher, center Trace Clopton, left guard Ty Pollard and left tackle Drake Dorbeck.
USM began to make some changes up front in the first half and the line to begin the second half looked very different. Dorbeck and Clopton were the only two players who stayed at their positions. Fletcher shifted to right tackle while Pollard moved to right guard and freshman Coker Wright stepped in at left guard.
▪ Key injury: The USM rushing attack took a significant blow in the first quarter when sophomore running back Trivenskey Mosley went down with an injury to his right leg.
Mosley was in significant pain after collapsing on the field and had to be helped off the field.. He was unable to put pressure on the leg at the time.
He did not return to the game and was standing on crutches with a brace on his right leg in the fourth quarter.
▪ Nice debut: In his Southern Miss debut after transferring in from Alcorn State this summer, Terry Whittington made his presence known in a hurry Saturday night.
The defensive end/linebacker came up with a sack of Alcorn State QB Noah Johnson on the Braves’ opening possession and finished with a game high of two sacks.
Saturday was a promising start for the 6-foot-4, 218-pound Florida native.
“I wasn’t really too much focused on my (old) teammates,” Whittington said. “I was just focused on getting the win.
“It was just coming out with a lot of effort, working on my technique. It’s things I’ve been working on, getting better every day.”
Junior safety Ky’el Hemby led USM with six tackles and nickelback D.Q. Thomas had the lone interception for the Golden Eagles.