Southern Miss' run game and defense were the difference in Golden Eagles' 37-0 win over Grambling State. However, the storyline of the night was Southern Miss' switch to the backup, true freshman quarterback Ty Keyes.
Southern Miss' offense now has more questions than answers after starting quarterback Trey Lowe did not play the second half of Saturday's game. Keyes helped lead a struggling Southern Miss offense to score 27 points and put up 254 yards of offense half.
Lowe got off to a better start compared to the Golden Eagles' season-opener. Lowe connected with Jason Brownlee for a 12-yard touchdown to take a 7-0 lead on the Golden Eagles' second drive of the game.
Despite the early success, Southern Miss' offense continued to show inconsistency as the Golden Eagle offense only mustered a field goal in the second quarter. Lowe was 10 of 13 and threw for 99 yards and a touchdown as Southern Miss held just a 10-0 lead heading into halftime.
Lowe was helped off the field at the end of the first half, with Hall stating after the game that it was due to a lower extremity injury.
"Trey Lowe had a lower extremity injury," Hall said. "We don't know how serious it is. At the time, Trey was 10 of 13, was playing well, and had a touchdown early in the game. I thought he looked way more sure of himself than he did last week.
"Everybody felt Ty's energy when he came into the game. I think I felt it."
Keyes' game started rocky as he fumbled on the fifth play to start the second half, but he still provided a needed spark to the offense as he used his legs to keep drives alive. Keyes bounced back with a 17-yard scramble on the next drive that set up a 25-yard field goal midway through the third quarter.
"I take full responsibility for that play," Keyes said. "Frank (Gore Jr.) did a great job, and I just messed up the play. On the next series, I knew I had to drive the ball downfield and execute the plays. That's exactly what we did.
"Trey went down, and I knew I had to step up big time for the team. The team believed in me, and the coaching staff believed in me. I had to get out there and execute to get the job done for the team. (Coach) was telling me to be yourself, just get out there and play the game and have fun. That's exactly what I went and did for the team. It helped me a whole lot."
Later in the fourth quarter, a 25-yard run by Keyes set up a 34-yard field goal and pushed the Golden Eagles' lead to 30-0.
The Taylorsville native then capped the night off with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Jakarius Caston with five minutes left to play in the game. Keyes was 4 of 11 and threw for 50 yards and a touchdown.
"Ty wakes up and wins," Hall said. "That's what he's been doing his whole life. He showed some really good ability to run and made some big plays with his feet. He was only 4 of 11, but he was on point with some reads."
Hall would not say whether or not if there could be a quarterback battle moving forward.
"We will look at this film and assess it and do whatever we think is best for this program moving forward after that," Hall said. "Trey would have played the second half. He was 10 of 13, and we were up 10-0. He made a phenomenal throw to the end zone to score the touchdown. Our issues offensively were not his fault."
Even with the quarterback position in question, the difference in the night was Southern Miss' run game and defense.
Running backs Frank Gore Jr. and Dajon Richard combined to rush for 238 yards and two touchdowns.
Holding the 10-0 lead after the half and in need of a spark on offense, Gore erupted for a 51-yard touchdown with 7 minutes and 26 seconds left in the third quarter. The run put Gore over 100 yards as he finished the night with 163 yards off 21 carries.
"It was a play that I had been asking Coach (Hall) to call all day," Gore said. "He finally called it. The (offensive) line blocked it, and I just saw one guy, made him miss and scored a touchdown."
Complimenting Gore in the ground game was Dajon Richard. Following a 22-yard run by Gore in the fourth quarter, Richard helped Southern Miss put away Grambling State with a 29-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter."
Richard finished the night with 10 carries for 76 yards and a touchdown.
"Dajon comes to work every day," Gore said. "He makes sure he knows everything and prepares himself like a starter. He's going to get it and keep rolling."
On the defensive side of the ball, USM's defense pitched its first shutout since 2017, which was in a 24-0 win over UTEP.
The defense stayed dominant as it held the Tigers to 152 total yards of offense. Grambling was just 4 of 17 on third-down conversions and kept the Tigers out of the red zone all night.
"We're a football team that has played a lot of guys that had never played a college football game in front of people before until last week," Hall said. "We've got very minimal guys that have played college football in front of people before. This was their second opportunity to do it.
"Not the performance we wanted to have offensively, we have a lot of things we have to shore up, but we're building this thing. We said when we came here, we're not going to be a finished product after game one. We're not going to be after game two. But we took major strides fixing some things from game one to game two."
Southern Miss will host Troy next week, with kickoff set for 6 p.m.