2016 USM game
Southern Miss 44, Rice
second-quarter lead, down by one score at half, but
USM wins going away, winds up setting own all-time
total yardage record
On a night when the Rice defense did not distinguish itself, Owl DB
J D Blasingame did, saving at least one score with a forced turnover
(Bobbie McDuffie photo)
1) -- OK, admittedly, we did not make the trip to Hattiesburg. Why
should we have? I mean, Hattiesburg?
Been there, done that.
Seems the Rice Owls sort of came up with
a ‘been there, done that’ effort themselves this benighted evening,
playuing hard, starting out strong, taking an early lead, and then
succumbing to the same old bugaboos that have been bugging them for
what, the past ten years or so? Maybe 15?
It was a
succession of “Number 28's”, as Southern Miss quarterback Nick
Mullens threw for a school-record 591 yards, 292 of them to brother
Allenzae Staggers, four long touchdown bombs being stitched
together to the delight of the hometown crowd, as the the Southern
Miss Golden Eagles flew past the Rice Owls 44-28, in a game which
saw the homestanding bunch set yet another school total offense mark.
Of course the previous two times they
did so, they did so against these self-same Institute birds, most
recently last year in a 65-10 walkover at Rice Stadium.
This year, though, they didn’t beat the
But the Eagles of the Free State of
Jones romped pretty much freely, when they choiced to take to the
air; as Mullens and Staggers Lee connected on touchdowns of 75, 81
and 93 yards, pounding the Owls back into a hole each time they
gamely tried to dig themselves out.
Still, it was a ball game early – just
like the Owls’ first four games, er, losses, of the season.
It was Samuel Stewart, who had been
missing in action since suffering an injury early the season opener
at WKU, who gave Rice a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter,
combining with Tyler Stehling on a seven-yard touchdown pass at the
But how long did that lead last? Try,
say, 11 seconds, because here come another Numba 28. USM’s first
play from scrimmage after the ensuing kickoff, Mullens and Staggers
Lee combined on a 75-yard scoring strike to wrest away the lead from
the Owls for good.
Nonetheless, it was only 13-7 at the
half, despite the Owls’ having given up several acres of first-half
yardage to the locals. Rice head coach David Bailiff was profuse in
“The defense kept us in the game in the
first half,” he said afterwards. “J T Blasingame, when you look,
running the screen down and punching that ball out, where we
recovered in the end zone...”
“Then J T Ibe punching the ball out, on
a wheel route, holding them to a field goal on that possession,” he
“Then there was V J Banks on the
interception, in the first half, that kept us close in the game,” DB
noted for good measure.
On the night, Sam Stewart rushed for a
career-high 132 yards and scored three touchdowns, adding a pair of
TDs on the ground from 24 and 17 yards after his seven-yard scoring
catch-and-tumble into the end zone.
“I haven't played since week one,” Sam
noted afterwards, “so I was excited to get back on the field, to be
able to come here what I came to do, really.”
“The O-line was blocking great,” he
said. “Some of the guys who had to step in this week, they did their
part; their ability is just going to improve from here. The wide
receivers on the perimeter were blocking on the perimeter as well as
catching it; we were making plays that we hadn't really been making
at the beginning of the season.”
Meanwhile, however, the defense gave up
702 yards while insisting on covering the fleet-footed USM wideouts
on a 1-on-1 basis throughout the game. As in, no adjustments.
To close out the Owls’ scoring – 28
points being by far their highest total thus far in the season --
Tyler Stehling hit Zach Wright with an 11-yard touchdown pass early
in the fourth. Stehling completed 14 of 18 passes on the night for
166 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
It should be pointed out that the Owls
were without five guys who'd started in the previous game last week,
including running back Darik Dillard, center Trey Martin and guard
Peter Godber on offense and defensive linemen Zach Abercrumbia and
Carl Thompson on defense.
True freshman Joseph Dill stepped into
the void left by Godber, becoming the first true frosh to start for
Rice on the offensive line since Scott Mitchell in 2007.
Corey Klingler, who took over as a starter at guard in week two,
moved to center in place of Martin. Isaiah Edwards shifted from
tackle to guard and Sam Pierce returned to the starting lineup at
On the defensive side, redshirt freshman Roe Wilkins joined his
Hardin Jefferson HS teammate Blain Padgett in the starting lineup
along with Preston Gordon.
Despite the apparent USM runaway, Coach
Bailiff was stiff-upper-lipped after the contest.
“I thought the effort of the football
team tonight may have been the greatest effort of the year,” he
saide. “I really thought our offense started getting in a rhythm
that we haven't seen this year.
"We're a team that's getting better
every rep. We're learning. We're growing. As long as we keep playing
this hard, we're going to be in great shape.”
One thing’s for sure – there’ll be no
loss in the offing for the Owls this coming Saturday.
They have the week off.
(Sept. 29) -- The Rice Owls are off to Hattiesburg for a road
contest against 3- 1 Southern Mississippi, perhaps resolute in the
effort to wrest their first win of the season, but with all the
stats and circumstances pretty much stacked against them in the
was in 2007, David Bailiff’s first year at the Rice football helm,
that the Owls first scratched the winning column in Hattiesburg
after an 0-4 start. So there’s historical precedent for a repeat of
Coach Bailiff’s first win ever at Rice.
However.... that time, USM gifted the Owls with seven
turnovers in the game, Chase Clement was at quarterback and
beginning to feel firm footing beneath him, and there was a guy
named James Casey lining up and making plays all over the field for
his Owl team.
No, this upcoming contest has to be viewed much more in the light
cast by last year’s debacle in Rice Stadium, where USM quarterback
Jeff Mullens and his Eagles hung a 65-10 Homecoming humiliation on
the local entrant.
Mullens returns as the man under for USM this season; he’s in fine
fettle; and he’s got a veteran offensive line replete with returning
starters to provide him with all the “max protection” his heart
Put pencil to paper, and frankly there just doesn't seem to be any
way on this one.
All of Rice’s Kryptonite factors: mobile, talented, experienced
passing quarterback, varied offensive attack, sturdy deep passing
game, aggressive defensive line, lots of transfer and juco talent
showing up on the opponent’s depth chart – it’s all there.
The Golden Eagles were near-unanimous pre-season picks for first
place in C-USA’s western division, and, save for a stumble against
correspondence-school Troy, they’ve met with unbridled success in
First came a 44-35 road win over SEC entrant Kentucky, followed by a
56-0 glorified scrimmage against Savannah State, after which came
their gift-filled 37-31 home loss to the Men of Troy, topped off by
a solid 34-7 win over UTEP last week in El Paso.
So, just for fun, let’s do a little math.....Rice loses to Army by
31-14, that’s 17; Army blitzes UTEP by 66-14; that’s 42; UTEP loses
at home to these Southern Misses, 34-7....aw, never mind.
In order to be competitive, much less pull off an upset win, Rice
will have to contend with a multitude of talent scattered around the
field for the Southern Mississippians.
As mentioned, all-league quarterback Jeff Mullens returns for his
senior season, sporting a 132 QB efficiency rating, having tossed
for 228 yards per game while steering a multi-faceted USM offense.
The Eagle rushing attack, meanwhile, is nothing if not
well-balanced, while lead by all-league candidate Ito Smith. Ito led
the team in rushing both his freshman and sophomore years, racking
up a total of 1,128 yards last year, and this season having eclipsed
the 100-yard mark in all four of USM’s games so far.
His 545 yards rushing is good for third in the nation, presently.
And hero Ito is amply backed up by George Payne, who was the man of
the hour in the 44-35 win over Kentucky, rushing for 100 yards on 16
carries as the Golden Eagles torched the field in Lexington. He went
for a season-high 116 on 14 carries in the home opener the next week
and his 6.7 yards per carry is just one-tenth away from hero Ito for
the team lead.
Mullens’ available receivers are legion as well, with four
pass-catchers averaging greater than 20 yards per game, led by
Allenzae Staggers at 44.5, and Isaiah Jones, at 51.2 yards per game.
Defensively, the leaders of USM’s “Nasty Bunch” are both defensive
linemen, Dylan Bradley and Xavier Thigpen. Bradley leads the team
with 26 tackles, 1.5 sacks and one forced fumble in four games.
Thigpen blocked a punt on the team's first defensive possession of
the 2016 season before also forcing and recovering a fumble at
Kentucky. It kickstarted the Golden Eagles to what went from a 35-10
deficit to their big 44-35 win in Lexington.
The redshirt junior also leads the team with 6 1/2 tackles-for-loss
(including 34 yards). That number accounts for exactly half of his
total tackles on the year. He shuffled through the rain against Troy
to post eight tackles (4.0 for loss).
Southern Miss registered its third second-half shutout of the year
in last week’s win over UTEP, and now has outscored its opponents
58-13 on the year after the intermission. The Golden Eagles have
allowed just 266 yards through the air in the last three games.
Oh, and the coaching-go-round continues in Hattiesburg with the
introduction of first-year man Jay Hopson, who uncharacteristically
has moved over from in-state SWAC entrant Alcorn State, where he
enjoyed a successful four-year stint as head coach. During his
tenure there, Hopson led the Braves to a 32-17 record and
consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference championships the last
His team also captured the SBN Black College Championship in 2014.
Prior to Alcorn, Hopson worked as linebackers coach for two seasons
at Michigan (2008-09) and worked as defensive coordinator at Memphis
during the 2010 and 2011 campaigns, in addition to a couple of
earlier short stints on the USM staff under Jeff Bower.
Here’s his coach-speak take on the upcoming Rice game:
"They've played everybody tough and they are a team that lost in
overtime last week and played Baylor strong. It's a team that we
understand we have to ready to play and we know they are a good
football team. They're talented, the quarterback makes plays. It's
conference play and you know any time you play in conference play;
whether it's on the road or at home, it is going to be a 60-minute
war. That's the reality of playing in conference. We have to be
ready. We have our plate full and gotta be ready to go."
Take it for what it’s worth.