HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Saturday marked the first time under head coach Jay Hopson that Southern Miss lost a game when holding its opponent to under 100 yards rushing and 300 yards of total offense.
The Golden Eagles' defensive effort in their 24-17 loss to Kentucky is one of the positives Hopson took away from the game, especially the play of senior defensive tackle Rody Crayton.
"He played one heck of a football game," Hopson said. "Rod Crayton, he was our defensive player of the game. Rod I thought played tremendous up front, he really did. I thought our front played well. I thought Rod certainly had the best game. Just impressive to watch him play, he played real physical football."
Crayton recorded five tackles (two solo), a team-high 1.5 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble as Kentucky threatened at the goal line. The Dadeville, Alabama native's prowess up front was a big reason USM held Kentucky to just 78 yards rushing.
"I think that we showed that we're very physical and that we can play with anybody," Crayton said. "I think we just have to get better week in and week out. At practice, just try to make each other better. The [offensive] line, when we're going against each other, just get better by the week."
Southern Miss defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro played 11 defensive lineman on Saturday, each player getting about 25-35 snaps a piece. That kind of workload allows the USM defense to stay fresh throughout the game.
Pecoraro said Crayton played maybe 20 snaps a game last season, weighing about 325 pounds. This year, the 6-foot, 284-pound tackle is a entirely new type of impact player for Southern Miss.
"Honestly, he's been impressing me since we started fall camp, big time," Pecoraro said. "Like I said, he did a great job of changing his body, changing his mindset, grew up a little bit."
"Rod he just - I don't know, he just turned a switch," said USM senior defensive back Kelsey Douglas.
"People just don't know what Rod's been through," said USM senior defensive back Curtis Mikell. "This year he came in, just worked very hard, got stronger, lost some weight. Rod's just a great player for us now and you could see it the first game. He made some great plays for us."
The Golden Eagles hope that great playmaking continues when they host Southern on Saturday at 6 p.m.