Southern Miss

Here’s what we learned from Southern Miss football’s wild win at Troy

Southern Miss quarterback Jack Abraham and the two Alabama natives at receiver turned in a record-breaking performance when their team needed it most in a crucial road contest.

USM (2-1) held on late for a 47-42 road victory over Troy (1-1) that serves as a significant boost to the team’s chances of making a run at a bowl bid.

Redshirt sophomore Jaylond Adams, who publicly pledged to sign with Troy on National Signing Day in 2016 before later flipping to USM, turned in a career game as a receiver with 11 catches for 180 yards.

While he proved to be Abraham’s top target in the passing game, it was his third kick return for a touchdown of the season that proved to be his biggest moment of the game. Adams’ sprint up the sideline for a 100-yard touchdown on a kickoff return followed a 69-yard kickoff return for a TD by Troy’s Reggie Todd that cut the USM lead to 33-28 with 11:28 remaining.

“Once Troy returned a kick, it was on a personal level when I saw that,” Adams said. “Once I saw him make a play for his team, I knew I had to make a play for my team. That’s what I had to go do.”

Adams, a native of Adamsville, Alabama, finished with 322-all-purpose yards against a squad that he could have easily been dressing out for Saturday night.

“Coming into this game, it meant a lot for me and my family,” Adams said. “I wanted my team to come out on top.”Not to be outdone, USM redshirt junior receiver Quez Watkins set a career high with 209 yards and two touchdowns on seven receptions.

Watkins and Adams combined for 531 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in their home state.

“That was the whole plan,” Watkins said. “The duo is back. It feels good to be back home and put on a show.”

After being held out of the first two games of the season for unexplained reasons, Watkins was all smiles as he addressed the media after the game.

“It was amazing,” Watkins said. “Words can’t explain how I feel right now. I’m just truly blessed. That’s how I feel.”

Abraham was on the money in the first half, completing his first 17 passes to set a new Southern Miss record for consecutive completions. He broke his previous record of 15 straight — a 2018 streak that started against Rice and ended against Auburn.

“I kind of had a tell on what they were doing every time,” Abraham said. “I put my team in the best position on almost every play. It felt good throwing today. It was a good day for sure.”

Abrham completed 28 of 36 passes for 463 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He also ran seven times for 26 yards, a touchdown and a game-clinching scramble on fourth down late in the fourth quarter to allow USM to run out the clock in Troy territory.

With Watkins and Adams both on the field, USM appears ready to wreak havoc on Conference USA defenses.

“It just makes us 10 times better having (Watkins) out there,” Abraham said. “The defense has a tough time guarding both Quez and Jaylond. It makes my job a lot easier. I trust them to go out and make plays.”

USM finished with 514 yards passing as a team with help from a 51-yard touchdown pass from senior receiver Neil McLaurin to Jordan Mitchell with 11:40 left.

USM next travels to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide for an 11 a.m. game on Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

Secondary struggles

While USM head coach Jay Hopson and his team headed home to Hattiesburg victorious, the defensive secondary has a lot of work to do after giving up 504 yards passing to Troy quarterback Kaleb Barker, who completed 29 of 43 passes for four touchdowns.

Troy had four receivers clear the 100-yard mark with Tray Eafford leading the way with seven catches for 110 yards and a touchdown.

“That’s something we’ve got to go back on Monday and correct that,” Hopson said. “That’s something we’ll look at. Sometimes you have those games. The only thing about when you have them, it’s good when you get a win out of them. A lot of times you get an L out of them.”

Buster’s breakthrough

First-year USM offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner gained plenty of praise from Hopson and his players after the game.

While USM didn’t quite break out in the ground game with 40 carries for 112 yards, there was no denying the success of a 626-yard performance. It was the biggest yardage total since USM put up 702 yards against Rice on Oct. 1, 2016.

“That’s a very smart man,” Watkins said of Faulkner. “He was putting us in positions where we could be very successful. He was just executing. He was calling great plays all night.”

Faulkner managed out-duel Troy head coach Chip Lindsey, who previously served as the offensive coordinator at Southern Miss, Auburn and Arizona State.

Injury report

Redshirt junior linebacker Racheem Boothe was helped off the field with 7:09 left in the second quarter following a 3-yard touchdown run by Troy’s D.K. Billingsley and did not return.

He stood on the sideline with a boot on his left foot in the second half.

Redshirt freshman Hayes Maples saw some time at middle linebacker in Boothe’s absence.

Southern Miss redshirt junior defensive end Jacques Turner and sophomore defensive back Shannon Showers both played in Saturday’s contest. The two players left last Saturday’s 38-15 loss at Mississippi State with injuries.

Patrick Magee is a sports writer who has covered South Mississippi for much of the last two decades. From Southern Miss to high schools, he stays on top of it all.