HOUSTON - Southern Miss regained its share of first place in Conference USA's West division, setting offensive records on its way to a dominant victory at Rice on Saturday.
USM raced out to a 42-0 halftime lead - scoring a school-record 35 second-quarter points - and quarterback Nick Mullens finished with 386 yards passing and five touchdowns as the Golden Eagles beat Rice 65-10 in front of an announced crowd of 18,656.
Mullens now has 30 TD passes in 2015, tying him with Austin Davis (2011) for the single-season school record.
Southern Miss produced a school-record 682 yards on offense and held Rice to 214.
"Offense is all about execution, and we were really keyed in on what coverages we were going to get against different formations," Mullens said. "I think we did a great job of calling a balanced game and just sticking to our plan."
Southern Miss (7-3, 5-1 C-USA) continued its strong 2015 campaign in front of a homecoming crowd that watched its team lose its third straight game, all against division foes. Now tied with idle Louisiana Tech atop the C-USA West, the Golden Eagles can earn a spot in the conference championship game with a win in the Nov. 28 game at Louisiana Tech.
Southern Miss didn't score until there were just over three minutes left in the first quarter, when Mullens hit Ito Smith for a touchdown from 28 yards out. Early in the second quarter USM used a fake field goal to go up by two scores when holder Tyler Sarrazin connected with Xavier Thigpen for a six-yard score.
"We had been working on that as another opportunity to score, and our guys executed it well," USM coach Todd Monken said.
After the trick play, USM scored three more touchdowns in 2 minutes, 30 seconds as Mullens threw two long scores to Michael Thomas (50 and 51 yards, respectively) and another to D.J. Thompson for 13 yards.
Thomas finished the game with five catches for 126 yards and two scores. Casey Martin, a transfer from USM, caught six passes for 109 yards.
"This all started because our guys just had a great bye week," Monken said. "Our guys took advantage of the extra week, and they know what's at stake. We got some guys healthy and we just had a number of different guys that made plays."
USM didn't let up in the second half, as Jalen Richard ran all the way in from 60 yards out in the opening minutes of the third quarter. Richard finished with 78 rushing yards on six carries, and Ito Smith, who scored a touchdown late in the second quarter, carried the ball 18 times for 62 yards.
Backup quarterback Tyler Matthews impressed, completing four of his five passes for 109 yards and a touchdown pass to Jarrell Aaron.
"We have a lot skilled guys that made plays on offense," added Monken. "But let's face it, Rice is banged up. It's unfair to judge when a team is playing so many young guys. They beat the heck out of us last year."
USM has won four straight and five of six overall, while holding opponents to 14 or fewer points in the wins. The Golden Eagle have recorded their first four-game winninng streak since rolling off eight straight wins in the middle of the 2011 campaign.