HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Forty-eight hours after the fact, University of Southern Mississippi safety D'Nerius Antoine sounded a little taken aback from the ambush the Golden Eagles flew into Saturday morning at the University of Texas-San Antonio.
"That was a big surprise," Antoine said of USM's 55-32 loss to the Roadrunners. "We didn't see that happening, but they came ready to play and we didn't, and it showed."
The Golden Eagles were gouged early through the air, including a pair of 70-yard-plus passes on consecutive, UTSA possessions, then trampled underfoot by a Roadrunners' ground game that had spent the first four games of the season running in neutral.
UTSA came into Saturday averaging 96.3 rushing yards a game. Against USM, the Roadrunners ran for a school-record 339 yards, including deep, gashing runs of 80 yards and 92 yards.
"Big plays were a guy not in the right spot at the right time," USM defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro said. "That's really how big runs and big plays usually happen. There're not a lot of times where you saw somebody went up and made a miraculous catch or made just an unbelievable run. Most of the time, when you see stuff like that, it's guys not being where they need to be."
The Golden Eagles will have to shake off any hangover from its lost weekend and get ready to face arguably the toughest opponent on their schedule.
USM (4-2) will enter Death Valley Saturday night for its final, non-conference game the season to take on Louisiana State University (3-2) at 6:30 p.m. at Tiger Stadium.
The Tigers had an unexpected week without a game, when Hurricane Matthew forced the postponement of a Southeastern Conference contest at the University of Florida.
Hopson said the Golden Eagles have to put last week behind them and focus on the task at hand.
"You better be motivated every chance you get to play football because you don't get that many chances in life to play," Hopson said. "It's always tough that day or two after a loss, but it's always good to get back on the field and get to play. That's what I'm looking forward to, just getting to practice and be on the field. Last week isn't going to have anything to do with this week, and that's the reality of it. Two weeks ago has nothing to do with this week and three weeks from now will have nothing to do with this week."
Hopson said, "You better be motivated every chance you get to play football because you don't get that many chances in life to play. It's always tough that day or two after a loss, but it's always good to get back on the field and get to play. That's what I'm looking forward to tonight, just getting to practice and be on the field. Last week isn't going to have anything to do with this week and that's the reality of it. Two weeks ago has nothing to do with this week and three weeks from now has nothing to do with this week."
USM quarterback Nick Mullens played the latter part of the third quarter and the fourth quarter with his right thumb wrapped after smacking it on an UTSA player's helmet while following through on a pass attempt.
But Hopson said he expects Mullens to be fine for Saturday's game.
"He came back in and played," Hopson said. "He didn't break it and he came back in and played the third and fourth quarters. He threw the ball well, too. He's a tough guy. Right now, I think he's going to be fine. We'll go out (Monday) at practice and see how he's chucking it around. I think the linebacker came through and I think he hit his helmet as he was coming through."
Return of Riley?
Junior defensive tackle Draper Riley, who has been sidelined by a preseason injury to his lower right leg, may return this week, Hopson said.
"That's what we're targeting right now," Hopson said. "We'll see how he does this week. That's what we're hoping for."
Riley, who had won the starting job coming out of the spring, appeared in 11 games as a sophomore and finished with 18 tackles (15 solo).
Offensive tackle Jacob Fleming also may return to practice. Fleming was injured in USM's win over Rice on Oct. 1.
If Fleming can't go, Will Freeman would start a second, consecutive week at left tackle.
Players of the Week
Offense: Mullens, who completed 24 of 47 passes for 370 yards and three touchdowns with an interception.
Defense: Linebacker Sherrod Ruff, who had five tackles, two for loss, including a half-sack.
Special teams: Place-kicker Parker Shaunfield, who made his 10th consecutive field goal without a miss to start the season.
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