It has been a couple of days since the Southern Miss Golden Eagles lost a dramatic 37-31 matchup with the Troy Trojans. It was only the second loss in nine meetings to this Sun Belt foe. While disappointing, there were some positives that came from this loss.
With that said, let’s take a look at the good, bad, and ugly of a 37-31 week three loss to Troy.
Allenzae Staggers had a great night: On a night that saw much of the receiving corps struggle, Staggers stepped up with six catches for 98 yards. Going into the night, Staggers had a mere three catches on the season. The JUCO transfer had a touchdown catch and was responsible for a huge reception in the final seconds that gave the Golden Eagles a chance to pull out the win.
Pass defense: Yes, the secondary gave up three passing touchdowns on the night and that is bad. But the secondary had a pick-six from Devonta Foster and held the Trojans to 10-28 passing for a measly 123 yards.
The USM secondary held Troy to only 20 yards in the air in the second half. The only mistake of the second half in pass defense came on a Trae Collins pass interference penalty that helped set up a Troy field goal.
Never give up attitude: Honestly, Southern Miss played most of the game like a team that should have been on the wrong side of a 42-14 type of scoreline. They made too many terrible and costly mistakes, while taking way too long to get their offense moving. Instead, they would fall behind by ten and score to keep it a one possession game all night. At times in the game, they trailed 17-7, 24-10, 34-24, and finally 37-31. You have to give credit to the players that they even had a chance to win the game at the end.
A non-conference loss: Sure, this loss looks bad for the public perception of the team, but they have yet to play a CUSA game and can still easily run the table in conference play and end the regular season 10-2. If they can forget this game and move on to CUSA play, they will be fine.
Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes: If you add turnover on downs to the turnover column, the Golden Eagles gave the ball away five times on the night. Nick Mullens was picked off twice, a kickoff was fumbled, a punt snap was botched, a fake punt came up no good. The bad snap on the punt officially counted as a turnover on downs. Following those mistakes, Troy was able to start possessions on the USM 10, 13, 49, and 29. The ensuing drives resulted in 17 of Troy’s 37 points of the night.
The secondary seemed to be out of sorts on multiple occasions, especially on a second quarter touchdown pass that saw Andre Flakes in the endzone all alone on a busted coverage. Mental mistakes like that have to be fixed.
Unable to stop the run game: Troy running back Jordan Chunn rushed the ball 36 times for 176 yards and a touchdown, including a 39-yard backbreaking touchdown run in the second half. The pass defense was solid for the most part, but giving up 176 yards on the ground to one player is unacceptable.
Missed opportunities: When Troy kicked a field goal that gave them a 37-31 lead, there was still 10:21 left in the game. The Golden Eagles proceeded to go three and out. They ended up with two more chances to score, one stalling quickly at their own 43 and the other starting with 1:33 left in the game. They did drive to the nine-yard line and had a chance to win, but those two earlier drives made it very tough to come back and win.
The play of Nick Mullens: The senior quarterback ended the night with 263 yards and a touchdown in the air, but had one of his poorer games in the last two years. He missed out on multiple open receivers and made multiple terrible decisions that ended promising drives. It got as bad as the announcing crew openly wondering what was wrong with Mullens throughout the game.
If the Golden Eagles want to have a shot at the CUSA crown this fall, Mullens needs to pull out of this funk and play like the star quarterback he was in 2015.
Conference USA play kicks into gear with a trip out west to face the 1-2 UTEP Miners. UTEP beat New Mexico State convincingly in week one, but has lost by a combined 107-21 in the last two weeks to Texas and Army. They gave up 66 to Army in week three alone. Kickoff on Saturday is scheduled for 7:00 PM CST.