Southern Miss football coach Jay Hopson lamented missed opportunities that cost the Golden Eagles in their 45-30 loss Saturday at Louisiana Tech, and warned that a similar failure could be costly in this week’s upcoming contest at Rice.
“We knew it would be a 60-minute game,” Hopson said Monday at his weekly news conference on the USM campus.
“Give Louisiana Tech credit. We had our chances. We made too many mistakes in execution, offensively, defensively and special teams. Those are mistakes you can’t make against a good football team and expect to be successful.”
The loss dropped USM to 4-3 overall and 2-1 in Conference USA, with another C-USA West opponent on the horizon in Rice, an 0-7 team that doesn’t look like a group that hasn’t won a game this season.
“It’s amazing that they haven’t won a game,” said defensive coordinator Tim Billings of the Owls, who are 0-3 in conference play. “They’re a team that scares you. They haven’t won a game, but they’ve been in every game they’ve played.
“You have a team that’s 0-7 so you think you have a chance to do some good things, then you watch them on film.”
All three coaches who came to the podium Monday focused on a key statistic from Saturday’s loss, conversions in the red zone.
Both teams made four trips inside the other’s 20-yard line, but the Bulldogs scored touchdowns all four times they were there, while the Golden Eagles scored just one touchdown, settled for two field goals and had a pass intercepted in the end zone.
“No doubt, that was the difference in the ball game,” said offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner.
“I was real concerned coming in. They’ve been real stingy down there. We had some opportunities there in the first half, where if we score touchdowns instead of kicking field goals, the score is much different at halftime.”
And that was especially costly when Louisiana Tech beat the clock with a 90-yard drive for a touchdown in the final minute before halftime that made the score 27-24 at intermission.
“We had them backed up with a third-and-long in minus territory and they were able to convert, then hit a few big pass plays to score right before half,” said Hopson. “That was a big turnaround right there.”
A big factor was the loss of senior starting running back De’Michael Harris, who started the afternoon with a 100-yard touchdown return on the opening kickoff of the game but was injured midway through the second quarter and did not return.
Harris is still listed as No. 1 on the depth chart at running back, but Faulkner talked like he wasn’t expecting Harris to play on Saturday.
“We’ve got to find a spark plug back there, if (Harris) is unable to go,” said Faulkner. “We have to find a guy who can change the game like he does.”
Redshirt junior Kevin Perkins played well in Harris’ place, netting 56 yards on 12 carries until he too went out with an injury. However, Perkins is expected to play Saturday against the Owls.
Sophomore running back Trivenskey Mosley, who was the starter to begin the season, hasn’t played since the first half of the season opener with an unspecified injury. Both redshirt sophomore Steven Anderson and Darius Maberry, also a redshirt sophomore, took the field in the second half of Saturday’s game, and will likely have some role to play against Rice.
Although Rice hasn’t won yet this season, the Owls have played well against a difficult schedule, including a 21-13 defeat against Baylor and a 23-20 overtime loss to Louisiana Tech.
The Owls have employed two quarterbacks, and Billings was very high on their top two receivers, Austin Trammel and Brad Rozner. Trammel has 37 catches for 472 yards and a touchdown, while Rozner has 32 receptions for 479 yards and two scores.
“They show a lot of personnel groups,” said Billings. “They like to run the football. The thing we have to make sure we’re good at is when they get into heavy sets and go play-action, we’ve to win some one-on-one balls.”
Offensively, the Golden Eagles will look to get quarterback Jack Abraham back on track after a frustrating afternoon that saw him throw four interceptions, one for a back-breaking pick-six in the fourth quarter.
The redshirt junior from Oxford completed 26 of 40 passes for 327 yards and a touchdown, plus he ran for a 27-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
“He competed as hard as he could,” said Faulkner. “Yes, he threw four interceptions, but he gave us a chance to win. He knows he’s got to clean some things up.”
Kickoff for Saturday’s game at Rice Stadium in Houston is scheduled for noon, and the game will be televised on ESPN-Plus.