MONROE, LA - For three straight weeks, Southern Miss has played competitive football, resulting in a 2-1 record after the Golden Eagles knocked off Louisiana-Monroe 28-17 on Saturday.
"I call it a win and a win's a win," said USM second-year head coach Jay Hopson. "Certainly, we know we can play better and that's our journey to play better. But, a win's a win.
"It feels good to get a [win]," said USM junior quarterback Kwadra Griggs. "We didn't play our best game [Saturday] but we came out on top. I think the defense played a tremendous game. Offense, we played good but there's a lot of things we have to work on going forward."
Griggs threw for a season-high 250 yards and three touchdowns in his first full game for the Eagles. The junior also threw his first interception of the season in 73 pass attempts.
After limiting Southern to a school-record 0-for-12 on third down a week ago, the "Nasty Bunch" defense held ULM to 3-for-16 on Saturday including a crucial goal line stand in the second quarter.
"Goal line is something that we take real serious," said USM junior defensive lineman LaDarius Harris. "We practice that every week just in case. So, we were prepared for it tonight and we just told each other, 'We can't let em in the end zone.'"
"The goal line stand are things that as a coach you take out and you're really proud of," Hopson said. "First and goal at the one [yard line] and they didn't get it in. And then when adversity struck and we gave up a touchdown, our offense came right back and answered. Those are things that you always kind of build on and you like to see in your football team."
Following the two touchdowns ULM scored on Saturday, USM responded with touchdown drives on the ensuing possessions. For the first time this season, Southern Miss scored on its opening drive en route to a season-high 534 yards of total offense.
Ito Smith set a career-high with 219 rushing yards, becoming the first Golden Eagle to break 200 yards on the ground since Jalen Richard ran for 230 against Texas State on September 19, 2015.
USM returns to action against North Texas on September 30, opening the Conference USA slate at home. The Golden Eagles head into their bye week confident, yet humble.
"I believe we're used to the schemes," Smith said. "The system, what they got us running. I think that plays a big role in it, us being more comfortable."
"Football and life, it's all a journey," Hopson said. "We've got to be ready. Each week's a different fight, a different battle but I think they've played hard for three weeks and that's something I'm very pleased with. We've just got to grow defensively, offensively each week, get better. I see a lot of really good signs, a lot of great signs. We just want to make sure our precision gets better."