Southern Miss offense picks up pace

Southern Miss offense picks up pace
Photo credit: WDAM

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - For the second consecutive week, the University of Southern Mississippi offense hummed right along and put up a wheelbarrow full of points.

Some of that certainly can be attributed to the competition, with both Rice University and the University of North Carolina-Charlotte each sporting one victory on the season.

But USM coaches also liked what they saw from not only the play but the decision-making of junior quarterback Kwarda Griggs.

Griggs, who made Saturday his second consecutive start since breaking his non-throwing hand on Sept. 30 against North Texas University, completed 74.1 percent of his passes (20-of-27) for 221 yards and a touchdown in USM's 66-21 Conference USA victory over Charlotte.

Griggs did not have an interception for a second consecutive game and USM did have a turnover for the second straight game.

"He played well," USM coach Jay Hopson said Monday during his weekly news conference. "For the second weekend in a row, he did a good job of leading the offense. I've been very proud of him. He played well and we need that to continue."

USM offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson echoed Hopson's assessment.

"I thought he's been spot-on the last couple of weeks," Dawson said. "The ball's going to the right guy. He sees the field really well.

"The only negatives were we threw a couple vertical routes out of bounds, but that's really the only thing I could be critical about. But a very a clean performance by him, again, of dissecting the defense, getting the ball in the right place, being accurate. Keep doing that."

Dawson said he offered Griggs a bit of statistical advice, though.

"I told him when a vertical route is thrown out of bounds, there's a zero-point-zero chance of catching that," Dawson said, smiling.

USM (7-4, 5-2 Conference USA), which enhanced its postseason profile with Saturday's final home game, wraps up the regular-season schedule with a trip to take on Marshall University (7-4, 4-3).

Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Edwards Stadium in Huntington, W.Va.

The Thundering Herd won six of its first seven games to open the season, with the lone loss coming at North Carolina State University. But Marshall has dropped three of its last four games, including a 9-6 loss Saturday at UTSA.

Good news, Mr. Riley

Senior defensive tackle Draper Riley was supposed to have to sit out Saturday's first half after being ejected from the game at Rice University for an on-field altercation.

But Southern Miss appealed the suspension to the league office, which lifted the suspension, allowing Riley to start.

"We got an e-mail Friday, and let me tell you, he played awesome," USM defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro said. "I don't know if the stat sheet tells you that, but film tells you that. He played a really good football game."

Ito being Ito

Senior running back Ito Smith was announced Monday as one of 10 players nominated for the 2017 Conerly Trophy, awarded to the top collegiate football player.

Smith rushed for 153 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries against Charlotte Saturday, giving him four games this season with 150 yards or more (career-high 219 yards; University of Louisiana-Monroe; 178 yards, University of Texas-San Antonio; 150 yards, Rice).

Smith has six, 100-yard rushing games and for the season, Smith has 1,173 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns.

Smith scored on touchdown runs of 1 yard, 3 yards and 80 yards, logging his first, three-touchdown game of the season and third, three-touchdown rushing game of his career. He has run for multiple touchdowns in a game 12 times in his career.

His 80-yard run Saturday gave him three scoring plays this season of 80 or more yards, making him the first Golden Eagle to perform that feat in a season.

"Ito played an Ito game," Hopson said. "That long run, he found that super gear and on the 40 (-yard line), I thought that guy was going to get him. But (Smith) kicked it into overdrive. I told him on the sidelines, 'You put it into high speed on the 40.' He separated from the guy and took it to the house.

"Ito is a special guy. He's a great football player. That's what you see, week in, week out from Ito."

\With his three scores, Smith passed Damion Fletcher as USM's all time leading scorer by a position player. Smith now has 293 points, passing Fletcher's 278. The only person with more points in the program's history: former placekicker Darren McCaleb with 345.

He also passed Fletcher's 46 total career touchdown mark with 48. Smith has 41 career rushing touchdowns, three shy of Fletcher's career record 44.

Smith also stands 72 all-purposed yards (rushing, receiving, kickoff/punt/interception returns) shy of passing Fletcher's all-time career mark of 6,253 all-purpose yards.

Players O' Week

Southern Miss players of the week for the Charlotte game:

Offense: Smith. See above.

Defense: Senior defensive back Kelsey Douglas, who finished with three tackles, including a tackle for loss, and returned two interceptions a combined 100 yards for touchdowns.

They were the first interceptions of the season and the second and third of Douglas' career. His 52-yarder in the first quarter gave USM a 10-0 lead and his 48-yarder in the second quarter made it 27-0.

Pecoraro  said on the first pick six, senior safety Tarvarius Moore tipped the tipped the ball in the air to set up Douglas.

On the second, Pecaoraro said freshman defensive lineman Jacques Turner took out the legs of Charlotte quarterback Hassan Klugh just as he was letting go of the pass.

"I was extremely happy with the first and really happy with the second," Pecoraro said. "I was proud of Kelsey. What a way to go out. Senior Night. Your last ever game at The Rock. That's a day you'll never forget and you ain't gonna wanna forget that one.

"I was proud of all our seniors. That's something that we talked about, that that's a game you'll always remember. There will always be a memory."

Special teams: Junior long snapper Colin Mills.

"He's done a good job all season," Hopson said.