HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - A tale of two halves. Didn't execute. Picking up that part of our game.
For another Saturday, The University of Southern Mississippi gave an uneven performance on the football field.
Yet, for another Saturday, the Golden Eagles posted another one-sided victory, a 44-28 Conference USA win over Rice University that set single-game records for offensive production.
USM set a team record with 702 yards total offense.
Nick Mullins became the first Golden Eagle to throw for more than 500 yards in game and was nine yards shy of 600 yards passing.
Allenzae Staggers erased a receiving yardage record that had stood for nearly two decades, hauling in 292 yards worth of football, including three, touchdown passes covering 75 yards or more.
Yet, USM (4-1, 2-0 C-USA) led just 3-0 after one quarter, 13-7 at halftime.
The Golden Eagles eventually pulled away to a 20-point lead late in the third quarter, and logged a second, consecutive win to open conference play.
But despite the comfortable win, coaches and players said USM has plenty to work on heading into Saturday morning's conference game at University of Texas-San Antonio (1-3, 0-1).
"The biggest room in the world is room for improvement," USM coach Jay Hopson said. "We made some plays, but, certainly, there are some things that we would have liked to have done better. "But, I think that's kind of the (story) of football. We were glad to get out with the 'W' last week, and we have to get ready for this week."
Safety Picasso Nelson Jr. said the herky-jerky nature of past games lies with the Golden Eagles.
"A lot of it is assignments," Nelson said. "As long we execute, we can play with anybody. Execute is an easy word to say, but it's hard to do. We just have to execute."
Staying the course
Hopson said he was unaware until well after the game how close Mullens was to 600 yards passing or Staggers to 300 yards receiving.
But even had he known, Hopson said he would have done the same at game's end, running the ball and taking knees to run out the clock.
"We're not going to stick them in there and play for a stat," Hopson said. "Maybe that's the old-school in me, but when the game's (in hand), you take the knee, you win the game. It's about the team. It's not about an extra yard here or there…To me, you've got to end the game with class. That's just the reality of it."
Players of the Week
Offense: Staggers, who had six catches for 292 yards, including touchdown catches covering 75, 81 and 93 yards. The yardage broke the school record of 260 yards set by Kendrick Lee against the University of Houston in 1996.
Staggers now leads the Golden Eagles in receiving yardage (470 yards) and receiving touchdowns (five). His 16 receptions rank second, one behind leader D.J. Thompson.
Defense: Lineman Dylan Bradley, who finished with seven tackles, including 3 ½ sacks. The sack total was just shy of the single-game record of four, jointly held by Chris Jackson and Cedric Scott.
Bradley leads the Golden Eagles with 33 tackles with 9 ½ tackles, including five sacks.
Special teams: Place-kicker Parker Shaunfield/safety Walden Davis.
Shaunfield hit field goals of 22 yards, 42 yards and 43 yards to remain 9 for 9 on the season.
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