USM’s win at Rice provides dividends, recognition

USM’s win at Rice provides dividends, recognition
Photo credit: WDAM

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - University of Southern Mississippi offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson had a moment with his defensive counterpart Tony Pecoraro Saturday following the Golden Eagles' 43-34 Conference USA at the University of Rice.

"I think we were just thankful we won," Dawson said, smiling. "I don't remember exactly what was said, but it was probably something along those lines.

It was suggested to Dawson that Pecararo might have been saying thank you for an offensive performance that produced 517 total yards and a score on every one of its first eight possessions on a day when USM's defense had fits with Rice's offense from the second quarter on.

"He ain't got to thank me, brother," Dawson said. "We need them. I don't need to be thanked. It's like I told him, I'm just glad we did our part.

"This week, it could be different. It could be the same. You just never know. But all you're trying to do at the end is get one more point than the other team."

USM (6-4, 4-2 C-USA) will wrap up the home portion of its regular-season schedule when it welcomes the University of North Carolina-Charlotte (1-9, 1-5) at 2 p.m. Saturday at M.M. Roberts Stadium.

The 49ers lost their first seven games of the season before stunning the University of Alabama-Birmingham 25-24 in overtime on Sept. 21. Charlotte followed by dropping their next two games.

"It's one of those games, where you look at people's records, and it's like last week," Dawson said. "You look at people's records, and you can make assumptions based on that as a coach and as a critic. Ultimately, all the teams you play, and especially toward the end of the year, you look at (film) where they're not on their 'A' game. But if they do bring their 'A' game, they're in a dogfight with people.

"And, it's the same thing with us. You can see games in our past where we didn't bring our 'A' game. Well, guess what? We didn't play very well. But when we do bring our 'A' game, we're a pretty good football team. The difference between the teams at the top and the teams in the middle and the teams at the bottom is consistency."

A week after being stymied at the University of Tennessee, USM's offense had its 'A' game rocking at Rice.

Junior Kwadra Griggs, who returned to the starting quarterback role for the first time since injuring his non-throwing hand Sept. 30, turned in his first 300-yard passing game. Griggs, who was one of 10 quarterbacks around the nation nominated as the Manning Award's "Star of the Week," completed 22-of-31 passes for 331 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.

Junior receiver Korey Robertson grabbed eight passes for a career-high 159 yards and two touchdowns. Robertson now has at least one catch in 23 consecutive games and it was the fourth time this season he's scored two touchdowns in a game.

Senior running back Ito Smith ran for 150 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. On his first carry of the game, an 11-yard gain, Smith cracked the 4,000-yard career rushing mark and became just the 10th player in Football Bowl Subdivision history to rush for 4,000 yards and log 1,000 yards receiving in a career.

He also topped the 6,000-yard mark in all-purpose yards and is just 225 yards shy of Damion Fletcher's school record for career, all-purpose yards.

USM coach Jay Hopson said the offensive feast was the result of good work by many.

"It takes a team," Hopson said. "Up front offensively, they did a good job blocking. I thought Kwadra did a good job directing the offense. It's a team effort."

But Hopson did single out Smith.

"Ito is such a humble kid," Hopson said. "He's one of 10 players in FBS history to have 4,000 yards rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in his career. That just says it all. He's just one of 10 players in the history of college football to achieve that, which lets you know the type of football player you are.

"Better yet, Ito is a better person. He's the first one to give the offensive line credit. He'll give the janitor credit. He's not going to give himself credit. He's a special football player."

Players O'Week

USM players of the week for the Rice game included:

Offense: Smith, who cracked the 1,000-yard rushing mark for a third consecutive season (1,018 yards rushing through 10 games).

Smith is only the third USM player to log three, 1,000-yard seasons, joining Fletcher, who had four, and Derrick Nix, who had three. He and Fletcher are the only two players to have reached the 4,000-yard career rushing mark.

Smith also has 38 touchdowns in his career, one behind Sammy Winder's 39 for second place on USM's career list.

"He did a great job," Hopson said. "I thought he was spot on. I knew he was going to have a good week. You could just see it in his eyes last week."

Defense: Freshman linebacker Racheem Boothe, who had a career-high 14 tackles, double his previous career best. He had two tackles for loss, including a sack.

Special teams: Junior place-kicker Parker Shaunfield, who extended his streak of successful field goal attempts to 12 in a row with field goals of 29 yards, 42 yards and a career-long 59 yards.

It was the first field goal of more than 50 yards since Corey Acosta made a 52-yarder against Rice on Sept. 7, 2014.

"He got a hold of that one," Hopson said. "It was 51 yards and it was still sailing."