For a second, consecutive week, big plays helped doomed the University of Southern Miss football team to defeat Saturday night.
And after another early-half-of-the-schedule, good-half/bad half performance in a 45-10 loss at Louisiana State University, senior quarterback Nick Mullens said it was time for the Golden Eagles to determine what kind of season they want to remember.
“It’s time to step up,” Mullens said. “This season can be great, or it can go really downhill. We’re at a turning point in our season, I guess you’d say.
“We’re good enough to win our next five games, but we’re also bad enough to lose these next five games. So, going in (to an open week), it’s really a matter of putting the hammer down and focusing on the details.”
USM rode into Death Valley, and for the first 30 minutes of football with Louisiana State University, the Golden Eagles were alive and kickin’.
But then came the second half, and for a second consecutive week, big plays scuttled the Golden Eagles’ hopes, as USM fell before 102,164 at Tiger Stadium.
“A tale of two halves,” USM coach Jay Hopson said.
LSU (4-2) broke away from a 10-10 halftime tie by scoring three of its four, third-quarter touchdowns on plays of 61 yards or longer to tag the Golden Eagles (4-3) with a second consecutive loss.
“We played well in the first half, didn’t give up any big plays, moved the ball well on offense,” Hopson said. “Then we come back, give up a big play in the third quarter and fumble the ball on the next possession and we’re down 14.
“Then, we give up another big play and the game is out of control.”
LSU running back Derrius Guice, who was limited to 40 yards in the first half, finished with 122 yards and two touchdowns in the second, including a 61-yard scoring dash that lit the fuse on the Tigers’ offensive explosion in the third quarter.
The Golden Eagles, who gave up four plays of 71 yards or more in a 55-32 loss at Texas-San Antonio on Oct. 1, gave up huge plays in the passing game as well.
Receiver Malachi Dupre had three catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns, including a 63-yard scoring pass in the third quarter. Receiver D.J. Chark Jr., who scored LSU’s first touchdown on a 19-yard sweep, had three catches for 91 yards, including an 80-yard, one-play scoring drive in the third quarter.
“The third quarter was just a bad quarter,” Hopson said. “That’s when LSU got (its) separation.
“It was bang, bang, bang, and it went from a game that can go either way to being down 21 points. We can’t have those spurts.”
USM was limited to 242 total yards offense, a season low and the fewest since a 52-21 loss at Alabama in 2014.
“You know … anybody on any given day can come in here, and we knew that Southern Miss was going to come in here,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “They are a good football team, seventh in the nation on total offense.
“We knew as a coaching staff that they could do some things that could hurt us. I think our guys woke up a bit at halftime and just decided to play hard.”
The Golden Eagles opened the scoring on the opening possession of the game. Two of USM’s first downs came courtesy of LSU penalty, but that did nothing to diminish a 15-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in Ito Smith’s 1-yard touchdown run and took 8 minutes, 12 seconds, off the clock.
It marked the 12th consecutive game that Smith had scored at least one touchdown rushing or receiving, and was the first, first-quarter touchdown allowed by the Tigers this season. The plays and duration were both season bests for the Golden Eagles.
Smith would finish with 111 total yards, including 65 yards rushing.
The Tigers answered with a three-play, 55-yard drive _ Guice’s 11-yard run; tight end DeSean Smith’s 25-yard reception; 19-yard end run _ that left the game tied 7-7 after one quarter.
The teams swapped field goals, with Colby Delahoussaye hitting from 38 yards to give LSU a 10-7 lead before Parker Shaunfield tied the game with a with 8:58 to play in the first half.
Shaunfield moved to a perfect, 11-for-11on field goal attempts this season.
Then, the wheel s came off for USM.
Guice broke his 61-yarder to make it 17-10, and four plays after ensuing kickoff, running back George Payne was stripped of the football at his 30-yard. Strong safety Jamal Adams, who forced the fumble, also recovered it at the Golden Eagles’ 22-yard line.
Two plays later, Guice was in the end zone again, putting a bow on the gift with a 20-yard touchdown run that put the Tigers up 24-10 and left the Golden Eagles reeling.
Chark turned a sideline hitch into an 80-yard touchdown, and Dupre hauled in a 63-yard touchdown after the Golden Eagles blew coverage.
Dupre capped the scoring in the final quarter, hauling in a 23-yard scoring pass.
Etling finished the game by completing 11 of 18 passes for 276 yards and three scores. He averaged 25-plus yards a completion.
USM will have an open week before welcoming Marshall University to Hattiesburg for homecoming on Oct. 29.