STARKVILLE, Miss. (WDAM) - The University of Southern Mississippi had trouble putting the football in the end zone Saturday afternoon, at least during the meat of the Golden Eagles’ game with Mississippi State University.
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, had no such issues, scoring early and often on their way to a 38-15 victory over USM before an announced 55,143 at the sauna bath that was Davis Wade Stadium.
“They played a good game and deserved that ‘W,’” USM coach Jay Hopson said. “But I’m proud of our effort. We fought.
“We’ve certainly got a lot of mistakes to correct, but I thought our players fought.”
Despite losing starting quarterback Tommy Stevens (upper chest injury/out) and starting running back Kylin Hill (lower leg/returned) late in the first half, Mississippi State (2-0) led 7-0 after one quarter, 21-0 at halftime and 28-0 more than 10 minutes into the third quarter.
USM (1-1) scored late in the third quarter on the first of Jack Abraham’s two touchdown passes, a 28-yarder to Jaylond Adams, then got within 31-15 on his second TD toss, a 65-yarder to Jordan Mitchell.
But Abraham, who also turned the ball over three times, ended any slim hopes the Golden Eagles might have harbored with his second interception of the fourth quarter.
“I thought we didn’t flinch in the face of adversity,” State coach Joe Moorhead said. “We’re going to have to be like our mascot, and be a bulldog.”
The pick and 45-yard return by Martin Emerson set up a door-slamming, 22-yard touchdown run by freshman Lee Witherspoon with 2 minutes, 20 seconds, left in the game.
“I was really proud when there was about five and a half minutes to go, and we were don two scores with the ball,” Hopson said. “I thought we had an opportunity to make it extremely interesting.
“But, of course, Mississippi State (got) a big turnover there that kind of sealed the game.”
It was State’s fifth consecutive victory in the series with its intrastate rival, as the Bulldogs became the first in 13 games to score at least 30 points against the Golden Eagles.
The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Hill became the first in 16 games to rush for more than 100 yards against the Golden Eagles. The junior pitbull from just down the road in Columbus netted 123 yards and a touchdown.
“He’s got small-back skills in a big-back's body,” said Moorhead, who did not disagree when some compared Hill to the last great running back in his coaching days at Pennsylvania State University, Saquon Barkley.
USM actually moved the football fairly effectively, picking up 344 total yards to the Bulldogs’ 386. USM had 53 offensive snaps to State’s 62, 17 first downs to 21.
But those were mostly hollow yards, with USM failing to threaten often, scoring from outside the red zone both times.
Both teams were rough on third down (USM just 2-of-9; State 3-of-9), but State scored on every one of its four trips into the red zone while USM failed on its lone visit when freshman place-kicker Andrew Stein missed on a 36-yard effort in the first quarter.
Stevens, who was making his second career start after winning the starting job this summer, connected with Osirus Mitchell for a game-opening touchdown for a second consecutive game. Saturday, he found Mitchell from 28 yards out for a 7-0 lead.
Stevens started the game 9-for-9, including a second scoring dart, an 11-yarder to Stephen Guidry for a 14-0 lead.
He missed on his last pass before exiting the game for good, finishing 9-of-10 for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
His departure brought in true freshman Garrett Shrader, who led MSU to its final score of the first half, a 13-yard blast by Nick Gibson through the middle of USM’s defense for a 21-0 lead just 42 seconds before halftime.
Shrader wound up completing 7-of-11 passes for 71 yards and also rushed nine times for 16 yards.
Abraham completed 18-of-26 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.
“We were shooting ourselves in the foot,” Abraham said. “We were getting behind the sticks and we were hurting ourselves.”
Mitchell led the Golden Eagles for the second consecutive week, snagging six passes for 94 yards and a touchdown.
Junior Kevin Perkins led USM on the ground, gaining 51 yards.
The Golden Eagles will remain on the road, traveling to Troy University at 5 p.m. Saturday.
The Bulldogs will welcome Kansas State University to Davis Wade Stadium Saturday for an 11 a.m. kickoff. STARKVILLE, Miss. (WDAM) -