The Golden Eagles closed this contest as fast as they ran on the field in their opening home game of 2016.
Savannah State, coming off of a 54-0 loss to Georgia Southern, came into the Rock looking to redeem themselves. The Golden Eagles, however, were too tough a matchup for the Tigers.
“I thought we played with good effort today,” said Head Coach Jay Hopson. “I thought we prepared hard this week, and we were focused.”
The Golden Eagles’ first score in the game came at the 5:33 mark in the first quarter with a Nick Mullens rush for one yard, which was his third touchdown scamper of the season. For the rest of the game, the Golden Eagles blitzed the Savannah State Tigers.
“We had to handle business, go out there and get the dub,” said junior running back Ito Smith. “It’s big being balanced [offensively]. It’ll open up things in the run game. If you can run the ball, you can pass.”
Before Mullens sat down toward the end of the second quarter, the senior quarterback threw for 216 yards and three touchdowns. Mullens also threw his fourth interception of the season on his first throw of the game.
“You just got to shake it off,” Mullens said. “I have to protect the ball and get it over the guy, not throw it right at his hands.”
The Savannah State quarterbacks were under duress all night. By the end of the first half, Southern Miss had tallied three sacks and hit the quarterback an additional two times.
The defensive line held control of the game throughout. Combined, linemen Dylan Bradley and Derrick Dixon tallied eight tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss in the first half.
Southern Miss led Savannah State in total offensive yards by a comparison of 420-9. The deficit would grow by the end of the game by a margin of 615-41.
“Everything was bouncing our way,” said receiver Marquise Ricard. “We just took what they were giving us. That just adds up in the long run.”
The second half saw more of the same dominance. Southern Miss put in their backups as soon as they came out of the locker room after halftime. The second-stringers did not disappoint, extending the lead to 56-0 by the end of the third quarter.
“Before the game, the leaders on the team and the coaches were stressing that as long as we execute and hold them to nothing that we would come out great,” said defensive lineman Xavier Thigpen. “We see our offense scoring and moving the ball. We’re just saying, ‘Let’s just go out there and execute so we can keep giving the momentum back to them.’”
For the second game in a row, Southern Miss had at least two backs rush for at least 100 yards, with Ito Smith tallying 128 yards on eight carries. Running back George Payne added 116 yards on 14 carries.
The defense, who shut out their first opponent since 2009 against Alcorn State, held Savannah State to 41 yards on offense, the fewest a C-USA team has ever allowed an opponent. The Tigers’ longest offense drive only went 26 yards downfield on any given drive.
The defensive line led on through the night. By providing early pressure on the quarterbacks, the rest of the defense was able to play more freely and with less effort.
“It was actually fun,” Thigpen said. “We were saying to either meet me or beat me [to the quarterback].”
Southern Miss will host Troy at home on Sept. 17 at 6 p.m.