Southern Miss (4-3, 2-1) struck early and often, racing out to a 26-0 lead in the third quarter and beating UT-San Antonio 32-10 to get above .500 once again.
“A long time ago I learned you don’t have to be the best team in the conference on every given night or even the best team in the country,” said head coach Todd Monken. “You just have to be the best team on the field and that’s what we were tonight. When that (clock) rings zero, you just have to win by one and then you go on to the next week. We are at four (wins).”
Nick Mullens and Michael Thomas continued their dominance on the Golden Eagles’ opening drive, connecting for a 47-yard touchdown pass on a deep post. Mullens was able to look off the weak side safety just long enough for the window down the middle of the field to be open.
Thomas was not the only USM receiver with a big day, as D.J. Thompson had a career day. Thompson proved to be a dynamic deep threat, catching multiple passes deep downfield on his way to 141 yards on six catches. With Thompson stepping up as a legitimate outside threat opposite of Thomas to go along with Casey Martin, this USM offense keeps proving to be scarier and scarier as the season progresses.
“I am happy for D.J.,” Monken said. “It has gone a couple of weeks where he really hasn’t been a factor. That is not anything to do with him, it’s just that sometimes that happens. Sometimes you don’t get the ball as often as you would like and tonight he came up big.”
The passing game was not the only bright spot for the USM offense however.
Jalen Richard and Ito Smith combined for 216 yards on the ground as each went over the century mark for the game. Richard was tough and physical as a between the tackles runner while Smith was quick and elusive in the open field as the two backs continue to compliment one another.
The Golden Eagles had three second quarter drives stall out inside the UTSA 10-yard line, but were able to capitalize with three field goals from Stephen Brauchle to give them a 16-0 lead going into the half.
To open the second half, the USM offense once again drove down the field, thanks in large part to a 37-yard catch by Thompson and a defensive pass interference call. Facing a 1st-and-goal from the 5-yard line, Mullens hit Thompson on a back shoulder fade in the corner of the end zone to put USM up 23-0. Thompson was able to create separation when he extended for the ball and Mullens placed it perfectly on Thompson’s outside shoulder to where only he could get it.
“Coach Lindsey did a good job play calling,” Richard said. “We took what the defense gave us and everyone had a good night. It was fun being able to see everyone showcase what they could do tonight.”
The Golden Eagle defense then got the offense in position as Brian Anderson sacked and stripped Dalton Sturm on the opening play of the drive. Andrew Bolton was there to pick it up, setting up another converted field goal for Brauchle. After UTSA finally got on the board with a touchdown of their own, USM answered right back.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Mullens hit Richard on a wheel route down the sideline. Although Richard was shoved out of bounds from behind, the connection still picked up 51 yards. Slot receiver Casey Martin ran a drag route across the middle, creating a rub route that slowed the linebacker responsible for covering Richard out of the backfield.
Richard capped off the drive with a 1-yard plunge into the end zone, bouncing off a couple Roadrunner defenders. The Roadrunners added a field goal before it was over, but the damage had already been done.
The USM defense swarmed to the ball all night, allowing just 205 total yards of offense on 3.3 yards per play, easily its best performance of the year. Sturm was running for his life all night as the Golden Eagle defensive line harassed him throughout, picking up five sacks in the effort. Anderson had two sacks from his middle linebacker spot while Xavier Thigpen and Dylan Bradley chipped in a sack each.
“We are only getting better on defense,” Monken said. “Our guys are athletic and I think they dominated the front.”
The secondary was exceptional, holding Sturm to just six completions on 22 attempts for 66 yards. Kalan Reed almost picked off a few passes, jumping a couple routes and recording three pass breakups while Cornell Armstrong had two pass breakups as well.
Southern Miss will look to pick up their third conference win this weekend when they travel to Charlotte, North Carolina, to take Charlotte (2-4, 0-3) at 11 a.m.