With less than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, freshman quarterback Ty Keyes was sacked on 3rd and 24, after an intentional grounding penalty put Southern Miss inside its own 10-yard line.
The sequence of events was the peak of frustration for the Golden Eagles' offense in the 21-9 loss to Troy on Saturday night.
Keyes was sacked nine times, but he also missed several open wide receivers. However, with no run game aiding Keyes, as it officially finished the game with minus one rushing yard, there was no alleviating the pressure off the young quarterback's shoulders. Without Keyes' negative yardage from sacks, the run game combined to run for just 46 yards. The last time Southern Miss finished a game with negative rushing was against Louisiana Tech in 2014 with -31 yards.
"Rome was not built in a day," Southern Miss coach Will Hall said. "We are certainly not building Rome fast enough. We have to get better offensively. We have a young guy playing his first game at quarterback, and I thought he gave a valiant effort. There are some things that he would like to have back. We have to help him more. We did not play well at o-line at all. We made some adjustments. We just didn't pick them up. I thought we just couldn't generate anything in the run game. We knew what they were doing, and we had answers, but we just didn't block them up very well, and that's that."
And now, with original starting quarterback Trey Lowe announced out indefinitely to a lower leg extremity, the pressure will build for Keyes. Keyes finished the game 16 of 29 and threw for 157 yards and two interceptions.
"It turned into a game that we are not built to do," Hall said. "We are not built to drop back and throw it every down. It's a really hard situation. We have to mix run and pass with our o-line, so it became a game that was really tough on them. We didn't answer the call and didn't play well."
Southern Miss' defense posted a valiant effort on the defensive side of the ball, with the Golden Eagles holding Troy (2-1) to 49 rushing yards while delivering 10 tackles for loss and four sacks. Eriq Kitchen posted four tackles with sacks. Malik Shorts and Jay Stanley each led the team with seven tackles, with Shorts forcing three pass breakups.
"We play phenomenal on D," Hall said. They just got tired. We played great in the kicking game again.
"Coverage units were great again. We played great on (defense) until we got tired. We scored on D, which was great to see. We felt like we just didn't play well offensively. We didn't play well up front. We didn't play sometimes well at quarterback. There was a catch or two we could have made to help things out. We have to play better in the trenches."
It was only fair that the Southern Miss defense scored the Golden Eagles' lone touchdown with
Despite the ugly end result, Southern Miss (1-2) opened the game with a 7-play, 46-yard drive that resulted in a 46-yard field by Briggs Bourgeois to take a 3-0 lead.
From there, Southern Miss offense struggled throughout the night as the Golden Eagles punted on five of their next six drives. The only drive in that span that didn't end in a punt was an interception by Keyes. Southern Miss only other chance to score came just before halftime, but a missed 41-yard field goal killed the late momentum. At the half, USM's offense generated 110 yards of offense compared to Troy's 89.
"We didn't execute," Keyes said. "We had a great first quarter. We were moving the ball, and they couldn't stop us on that first drive. Everything went downhill, but we are going to fix it.
"There's a lot that I have to fix to put the team in a better position. The defense is on the field way too long."
Despite the first-half defensive battle, Troy made adjustments and scored on the half's opening drive on a 17-yard touchdown pass by quarterback Taylor Powell to take a 7-3 lead.
Towards the end of the third quarter, the Trojans put together a 12-play, 80-drive, than ended with Powell throwing his second touchdown pass of the night. Powell finished the game 27 of 39 and threw for 255 yards and two scores despite the Golden Eagles' defense holding Troy to 49 rushing yards.
Troy then put the game away with an 8-yard touchdown run after earning a short field position following the grounding call and sack sequence.
"We're one of the youngest teams in America, and that's not an excuse," Hall said. "I didn't come here to lose games and make excuses, but we are building this thing. We've got to figure it out over the course of the next week going into conference play to give ourselves a fighting chance. We said in year one; we wanted to play 12 games that mattered. I know it doesn't feel like it right now, but we're still in a position to do that. If we can keep developing and getting better on this offensive unit and maintain what we're doing in the kicking game and defense, we can look up down the stretch and be playing games that matter."
Southern Miss will go on the road next week to face No. 1 Alabama with kickoff set for 6:30 p.m.