Coming off of their bye week, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles traveled to Murfreesboro, Tennessee and extended their losing streak to six games in a 35-10 loss to the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders.
“We’re just not a very good football team and we have to do everything right to have a chance,” Head Coach Will Hall said.
Southern Miss played three different quarterbacks in the game, even former student coach Jake Smithhart, after starter Jake Lange and backup Tee Webb posted a combined quarterback rating of 18.6. Southern Miss has now allowed nine quarterbacks on its roster to receive a snap under center during the season.
By the end of the first half, Lange had been sacked seven times, turning over the rock three times.
Middle Tennessee capitalized off Southern Miss mishaps scoring 21 points off turnovers. Two key mishaps occurred in the first half, which allowed the Blue Raiders to take control of the game.
The first was a blocked punt off the foot of Mason Hunt returned for an 18-yard touchdown by MTSU’s Tra Fluellen, with 14 seconds remaining in the first.
The second mishap was a 29-yard scoop and score fumble recovery by defensive lineman Jordan Branch after a 20-yard sack on Jake Lange by safety Deidrick Stanley.
“The blocked punt coupled with the fumble scoop and score was a killer. It really felt like we had control of the game from the stats of the first half. Those two plays were the difference,” said Hall.
At halftime, Southern Miss had 17 first downs and 146 total yards to Middle Tennessee’s six first downs and 96 total yards. Still, the Golden Eagles trailed 21-7.
To end the game, Southern Miss quarterback Lange completed 16 of 34 passes for 166 yards throwing two interceptions and fumbled twice. Lange’s second interception put the icing on the cake as the overthrown ball was returned 43-yards by cornerback DQ Thomas making 35-10 with 26 seconds in the 3rd.
As a defensive unit, Middle Tennessee forced five turnovers and blocked a punt returning it for a touchdown.
Southern Miss again took another gut-wrencher after Frank Gore Jr. went down clutching his knee early in the third quarter and did not return. Gore had 20 carries for 83 yards before going down.
As the offense struggled throughout the game, the Golden Eagles’ defense grasped the momentum. Outside linebacker Josh Carr forced a fumble on MTSU Quarterback recovered by linebacker Santrell Latham on Middle Tennessee’s 39 yards.
The forced fumble led to a 12-yard leaping touchdown reception by Jason Brownlee on a fade with 7:47 left in the first.
Brownlee would be one of the few bright spots on offense for the Golden Eagles as he broke a career-high in receiving yards with nine catches for 120 yards.
On the Blue Raiders’ next drive, defensive back Eric Scott Jr. intercepted the Blue Raiders’ quarterback Chase Cunnigham on Southern Miss’ 8-yard line.
Chase Cunningham did not return as he suffered a non-contact injury, which led to backup Mike DiLiello replacing him.
Then, the turnovers began for Southern Miss as Jake Lange was sacked and stripped by MTSU defensive lineman Jordan Ferguson, leading to a six-yard touchdown run from DiLiello.
Afterward, things became grim for the Golden Eagles as MTSU scored 14 more points, totaling 21 unanswered points.
Southern Miss could only muster three more points in the game on Briggs Bourgeois’ 38-yard kick in the third quarter.
Though the score did not reflect it, Southern Miss offense did move the ball with 23 first downs on 234 total yards to Middle Tennessee’s 16 first downs.
“We were moving the ball, we just never could make the play to get us over the hump, ” said Hall.
Southern Miss defense forced four turnovers and only gave up 14 offensive points on 287 total yards to Middle Tennessee.
“I was proud of our defense for not letting them in the endzone. I thought we played really hard on defense, “said Hall.
Southern Miss now travels back home to host (2-6, 1-3 Conference USA) North Texas, who just came off a 30-24 overtime win versus Rice.