Trailing 23-20, Southern Miss looked to jump ahead of UTSA with a little over eight minutes left in the game. Facing a third and seven, quarterback Tate Whatley caught his own deflected pass for negative 19-yards and forced Southern Miss to punt.
Southern Miss failed to take advantage of its offensive possessions in its 23-20 loss to UTSA as the Golden Eagles scored just one touchdown in its four trips to the red zone.
“That was really a tough loss,” interim coach Tim Billings said. “I thought we played really hard. Defensively, we played really well, except we gave up one big play and lost a little bit of momentum, but overall, I thought they played hard. Offensively, we had some good drives, but the biggest deal is that we left three touchdowns out there. We had to kick two field goals and should have had touchdowns.
“We just couldn’t finish it off. We made too many mistakes on both sides of the ball.”
Part of Southern Miss’ offensive problem was its run game, with its 75 total rushing yards snapping the team’s five-game streak of 100 or more rushing yards in a game.
Despite the lack of success from the ground game, Whatley proved to be a needed boost to the offense as he finished the game 22 of 30, throwing for 272 yards and two touchdowns. Whatley left the field with a possible shoulder injury after the deflection catch.
“I don’t know anything yet,” Billings said. “I just know he fell on it. I wish he would have knocked that ball down, field position-wise and everything. The kid was just trying to make a play. He’s a competitor. I was real proud of the way he played. He was hot and cold a little bit tonight, but that’s a guy who hadn’t played much in two years. Plus, he hadn’t really done anything in three weeks because he had a concussion. He didn’t get to throw or anything. I’m just so proud of that young man and the way he competed and of how hard he played.”
The Golden Eagle defense made its presence known early on as Southern Miss forced three straight three and outs and an interception at the start of the game.
The Golden Eagles took advantage of the early defensive success and got on the board first with a 37-yard field goal after Jason Brownlee couldn’t hold onto a potential 20-yard touchdown.
Southern Miss looked to take a two-possession after Malik Shorts came up with an interception lead but failed to score a touchdown in the red zone. Instead of kicking a field goal, the team called a fake kick, which failed.
After another three and out, UTSA managed to pin Southern Miss deep in its own territory. The Roadrunners capitalized on the short field position and sacked Whatley, who fumbled the ball out of the end zone, which resulted in a safety to narrow the score 3-2.
The Roadrunners used the momentum after the free kick and scored on a 13-yard touchdown pass by quarterback Frank Harris to take a 9-3 lead.
Southern Miss answered behind mainly Whatley’s arm and a pair of UTSA penalties. Whatley connected with wide receiver Tim Jones, who moved to fifth all-time in school history in career catches, on a 13-yard touchdown to take a 10-9 lead. Jones finished the game with five catches and 65 yards.
After holding UTSA to 18 rushing yards in the first half, running back, Sincere McCormick broke out a 69-yard touchdown to give the Roadrunners a 16-10 lead at the start of the second half.
On the ensuing drive, Southern Miss drove to UTSA’s 33- yard before Whatley threw a high pass that was intercepted. McCormick capped the drive off for the Roadrunners and extended UTSA’s lead 23-10.
McCormick finished the game with 173 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries.
UTSA’s 131 rushing yards in the third quarter snapped the Nasty Bunches’ 10 straight quarters streak of holding teams to less than 100 rushing yards in a quarter. The streak dates back to the second half of Southern Miss’ 30-6 loss to Rice earlier in the season.
“They got the one big play (and) they had a seam there,” Billings said. “We were out of position. In the second series after that one, they scored again. They kind of just ran over us a little bit. We made a few adjustments and played well the rest of the game, except they got the first downs in the end. Overall, defensively we played pretty well. We just have no depth, and it started to show.
“(UTSA) did a great job running the ball. (McCormick) is a great running back. They probably have one of the best offensive lines in the league. I really thought our defense did a great job of hanging in there.”
Southern Miss got back on the board just before the end of the third quarter. However, the Golden Eagles were held to a second field goal in the red zone as Southern Miss trailed 23-13.
Southern Miss continued to find late success as Whatley connected with Frank Gore Jr. on a short pass, which turned into a 51-yard touchdown to narrow the lead 23-20. Gore finished the game with 127 total yards along with the touchdown.
While Gore continues to be a shining gem in Southern Miss’ season, the frustration continues to build as the Golden Eagles now drop to 2-7 overall and 1-4 in conference play.
Southern Miss will go on the road next week UAB on Nov. 27 at 11: 30 a.m.