Three turnovers on the first three possessions of the game put the University of Southern Mississippi into a 21-0 hole Saturday afternoon at Ballard Stadium, and the Golden Eagles never recovered in dropping a 51-35 loss to Old Dominion University.
USM (5-5, 3-3 C-USA) lost for the fourth time in their past five games, while the Monarchs (7-3, 5-1) won their third, consecutive game.
True freshman Keon Howard started for the first time in his USM career, stepping in for injured starter Nick Mullens and backup Parker Adamson.
Howard showed glimpses, passing for 230 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for 98 yards and a score.
But he also lost four fumbles, was intercepted once and was tackled in the end zone for a safety.
For the fifth time in six games, the Golden Eagles did not record a takeaway.
Ito Smith rushed for 97 yards and a season-high three touchdowns. Smith, who has scored at least once in 15 consecutive games, has run for 1,081 yards through 10 games, giving him consecutive, 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
All told, USM netted 222 yards rushing against ODU.
Turnovers spelled doom for the Golden Eagles, with the giveaways continually setting up ODU’s offense on short fields.
Howard fumbled on the first two possessions, and the Monarchs capitalized on both, with running back Ray Lawry capping both drives with 2-yard runs to put ODU up 14-0.
Howard was intercepted when his pass went through the hands of receiver Isaiah Jones, and the Monarchs turned the gift into a 3-yard scoring run by Jeremy Cox for a 21-0 lead after a quarter.
Howard sparked the Golden Eagles’ first scoring drive with his legs, capping it with a 2-yard run, to pull USM within 28-7.
But ODU quarterback David Washington ended the half with touchdown tosses of 5 yards to Jonathan Duhart and 39 yards to Travis Fulgham to put the Monarchs ahead 35-7 at halftime.
Cox ripped off a 67-yard scoring run early in the third quarter, but USM fought back, scoring on short runs by Smith on three, consecutive possession to pull within 42-28 with 10 minutes to play.
But Howard was caught in the end zone for safety, and then fumbled away USM’s next possession at his own 7-yard line, where Rashaad Coward picked up the loose ball and returned it for a touchdown.
Howard capped the scoring with his first, career touchdown pass, a 55-yard hook-up with Marquise Ricard to cap the scoring.
Ricard led USM receivers with three catches for 84 yards.
Howard then was sacked and fumbled away USM’s final possession of the game.
Washington completed 12 of 18 passes for ODU for 144 yards and the two scores without an interception. Cox rushed for a team-high 77 yards on just four carries, while Lawry added 71 yards on 17 carries.
The Golden Eagles outgained the Monarchs 452 total yards to 370 total yards, ran 79 plays to the Monarchs’ 50 and had 21 first downs to ODU’s 10.