HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - University of Southern Mississippi football coach Jay Hopson said his Golden Eagles were already gearing up for their second game of the season, Saturday's home opener with Savannah State.
But on Monday morning during his weekly news conference, the first-year head coach was willing to look back for a few more moments and address USM's riveting, 44-35 season-opening victory at the University of Kentucky.
The Golden Eagles (1-0) rallied from a 35-10 deficit with less than a minute to play in the first half Saturday night, scoring the game's next 34 points while suffocating the Wildcats in the second half.
"The thing that I loved was just what I always talk about, that Southern Miss attitude, the fight in those guys," Hopson said. "You could see it in those guys."
With 24 years in the collegiate ranks as an assistant and head coach, Hopson said he had been involved in past games where the tide had shifted completely from one sideline to the other.
But Hopson said to get his first win at USM by guiding the Golden Eagles to their first win over an opponent from the Southeastern Conference in 15 years "was special."
"It's up there, it certainly is," Hopson said. "It was a special night for all of us, but it's up there. It really is."
USM's 25-point comeback was the largest in the program's 100 seasons of football.
The previous top comebacks :
- 21 points: Louisville (Nov. 25, 1950); trailed 21-0 just 10 seconds into the second quarter
- 21 points: at East Carolina (Nov. 10, 1984); trailed 24-3 with 11:36 to play in the second quarter
- 19 points: at Ole Miss (Sept. 24, 1977); trailed 19-0 with 12:21 to play in second quarter
- 17 points: Mississippi State (Oct. 7, 1978); trailed 17-0 with 12:21 to play in second quarter
- 17 points: Virginia (Sept. 19, 2009); trailed 17-0 with 9 second left in second quarter
Tight end Julian Allen, who caught an 18-yard touchdown pass in his first game as a Golden Eagle, said the game was "such a rush, something you dream of as a child."
Allen, a 6-foot-3, 234-pound junior from Sewell, N.J., sat out in 2015 with an injury after transferring from Lackawanna College.
He said the game and locker room celebration were things he and his teammates always would remember.
"A lot guys were very emotional, including myself," he said. "I had tears of joy coming out of my eyes. I can't lie about that. It was a very emotional feeling, an exciting, awesome atmosphere. The locker room, it got a little rowdy in there, but it was well-deserved."
Do not try and tell USM offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson that Mullens had an off night Saturday.
"I thought he had one of his best games because of what happened," Dawson said Monday. "How many times do you see a quarterback go out and have that much adversity hit at the beginning and play that well in the second half? I was looking in his eyes every time he came off the field, and the kid never wavered. I mean, absolutely, the kid never blinked. So, I knew, eventually, he was going to have a great game because he wasn't making bad decisions."
Dawson said Saturday's on-field assessments came into sharper focus Sunday when he sat down to grade film.
"All three of those picks, it wasn't like, 'OK, that's a bad decision, your eyes were in the wrong place,'" Dawson said. "The ball went to the right place. Either they made a great play or the ball got tipped and they picked it. He threw three picks, but none of those three picks were, 'Hey, the ball shouldn't have went there.'"
Mullens, who rewrote the school's single-season record book, had three, first-half interceptions before helping orchestrate the Golden Eagles' comeback.
He finished 18 of 28 for 258 yards and two touchdowns and scored twice on short runs.
Dawson said he would gladly go into the fray with Mullens on any football field.
"He wasn't making bad decisions just bad things were happening," Dawson said. "And you talk about going into every game, how you overcome adversity and this and that. "But the kid never blinked. He's in tune. He sees the field as good as any I've ever had. I never thought of pulling him back."
Players of the Week
Offense: Junior running back Ito Smith, who set career highs with 173 yards on 36 carries. He also caught a team-high five passes for 40 yards. Smith scored USM's first touchdown of the season an 8-yard run.
Defense: Senior defensive tackle Dylan Bradley, who had seven tackles. Two tackles were for loss, including a sack, and he also caused a fumble and recovered another.
Special teams: Sophomore place-kicker Parker Shaunfield and junior defensive end Xavier Thigpen.
Shaunfield, who also was selected as Conference USA's special teams player of the week, was 3-of-3 on field goals, including a career-long 49-yard effort. He also made all five of his extra points.
Thigpen blocked a Kentucky punt in the first quarter.
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