HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Saturday was not what the University of Southern Mississippi football team wanted.
Not at all.
After leading 12-7 at halftime, USM's offense went stale in the second half, and though trailing just 13-12 heading into the fourth quarter, the Golden Eagles' defense could not stop the University of Alabama-Birmingham from taking a 30-12 Conference USA victory at M.M. Roberts Stadium.
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak by the Golden Eagles (5-3, 3-2 C-USA) and gave USM a 2-3 record this season in Hattiesburg.
"Tough loss," USM coach Jay Hopson said. "Offensively, we didn't have one of our better halves in the second half... With 11 minutes left, we were still in the battle … We didn't have our best fourth quarter that fourth quarter.
"A disappointing loss. Give them credit."
USM was held to 81 yards rushing and a season-low 347 yards total offense by the Blazers.
Starting quarterback Keon Howard completed 14of-28 passes for 207 yards, his fourth consecutive game with at least 200 yards passing.
But Howard was lifted in the fourth quarter for former starter, junior Kwadra Griggs, who had been sidelined with an injured left hand since late September.
"Looking at the film, I didn't think Keon played that bad," Hopson said. "I really didn't. He got us in the right reads. We had a couple of passes dropped. At the end of the day, you can't always put it on the quarterback. It's a 'we' game.
"We'd gone for a while there, and things hadn't gone our way. We wanted to shake things up a bit."
Hopson said the battle for the starting job will remain a competition as the Golden Eagles prepare for a trip to the University of Tennessee (3-5) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
"I've said it before, we're going to let those guys compete," Hopson said. "Both of them have played a fair bit of football, and I think competition with those two guys is good."
Former Hattiesburg High School standout running back Robert Gillespie is UT's assistant head football/running backs coach/recruiting coordinator.
Gillespie played for Coach Steve Spurrier at the University of Florida, rushing for more than 1,800 yards from 1998-2001. He finished second among running backs in career receptions (96) for another 1,000-plus yards and helped the Gators win the national championship in 2000.
After short stints with the Washington Redskins, Frankfurt Galaxy and Jacksonville Jaguars, he started his coaching career as a graduate assistant under Spurrier at the University of South Carolina.
After one year, he became Gamecocks' running backs coach for the next four seasons (2005-08) before moving to Oklahoma State University as running backs coach (2009-10) under Coach Mike Gundy.
Gillespie then moved to West Virginia University as running backs coach (2011-12) before moving to Tennessee in 2013.
Players of the Week
Players of the week for the UAB game include:
Offense: Junior receiver Korey Robertston, who had six catches for 65 yards.
Defense: Senior cornerback Curtis Mikell, who made five tackles and broke up two passes.
Special teams: Freshman Rachaun Mitchell, who had two tackles on kickoff coverage.