T he University of Southern Mississippi did precisely as expected against an outgunned opponent, scoring early and often to swarm all over Southern University 45-0 Saturday night at M.M. Roberts Stadium.
USM (1-1), a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision, scored in all three phases of the game _ offense, defense and special teams _ against the Jaguars (1-1) of the Football Championship Subdivision.
“Our guys played physical,” USM coach Jay Hopson said. “Special teams was a big plus and eventually we had a pick-six, and those are good things.
“I was pleased with some of the explosiveness we had offensively, and our defense played well for 60 minutes for the most part. I was pretty pleased with the effort.”
Senior defensive end Xavier Thigpen recovered a fumbled punt snap in the end zone for USM’s first touchdown and senior safety Tarvarius Moore intercepted a tipped pass to set up the Golden Eagles’ third touchdown.
For Thigpen, it was the second touchdown of his career, joining a 6-yard scoring pass he caught in 2015 against Rice University off a fake field goal. For Moore, it marked the third interception of his career and his second takeaway of the season after recovering a fumble against Kentucky.
In his first career start before 24,337, USM junior quarterback Kwadra Griggs completed 15 of 23 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns. He helped the Golden Eagles to a 35-0 halftime lead with touchdown passes of 20 yards to senior Allenzae Staggers and 26 yards to freshman Quez Watkins.
“Get the ball to the open man,” said Griggs, who has completed 61.2 percent of his passes over the first two halves and a series of FBS collee football for 431 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. “That’s what my coach always tells me, so I’m going through the process of going through my reads and trying to put the ball in the playmakers’ hands. We’ve got a lot of playmakers.”
Senior running back Ito Smith scored on a 27-yard for his 30th career rushing touchdown and junior T’Rod Daniels scored his first career USM touchdown on a 49-yard run.
Smith tied Derrick Nix (1998-2000, 2002) and Ben Garry (1974-77) for fourth on the school’s all-time rushing touchdown list. Damion Fletcher (2006-09) leads the list with 44 career rushing touchdowns.
Junior cornerback Cornell Armstrong returned his fourth career interception 46 yards for a touchdown on the first possession of the second half and Parker Shaunfield added a 28-yard field goal on the last play of the third quarter to wrap up the scoring.
The statistics reflected the scoreboard, heavily skewing toward USM.
The Golden Eagles amassed 477 yards total offense and 27 first downs in a game that saw major player rotation through the first half and massive substitution in the second.
Southern U finished the first quarter with minus 9 yards rushing and 1 yard passing. The Jaguars recorded their initial first down with just less than 10 minutes left in the first half and had 34 yards offense at halftime. At game’s end, Southern U. had 140 yards total offense and seven first downs, failing to convert on a single one of its 12, third-down opportunities.
“We couldn’t get anything going offensively,” Southern U. coach Dawson Odum said. “Defensively, we got to some thid downs and couldn’t get off the field. It was just short field, big plays. You can’t do that against a good football team like this.”
Daniels led the Golden Eagles’ rushers, picking up 83 yards on just 10 carries. Smith, who was limited to 37 yards rushing by the University of Kentucky last week, ran for 77 yards on 17 carries. Both runners’ longest runs of the evening came on their touchdowns.
Staggers, who was held without a catch in the Golden Eagles’ opener, led USM with five catches for 62 yards. Freshman Jaylond Adams had two catches for 51 yards. After only four players caught a pass against Kentucky, 11 players had at least one catch Saturday and five players had two or more.
Southern U. was without senior starting quarterback Austin Howard, who injured his leg in the Jaguars’ season-opening win against South Carolina State University.
Freshman backup Glendon McDaniel completed just 5 of 16 passes for 22 yards with an interception and was sacked three times. Fellow freshman quarterback Darqez Lee completed 5 of 10 passes for 56 yards.
The Jaguars’ starting running back, senior Herb Edwards, was limited to 20 yards on four carries. Freshman Devon Benn led Southern with 42 yards on eight carries.
USM will take to the road next week for the first time this season, traveling to play the University of Louisiana-Monroe at 6 p.m. Saturday.