Missed opportunities haunt Southern Miss

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 22, 2009

NEW ORLEANS — When looking back on the 2009 season, a recurring theme for Southern Miss will be missed opportunities.

Sunday’s New Orleans Bowl encapsulated the season in 60 minutes. The Golden Eagles couldn’t overcome key turnovers and get critical stops, and lost 42-32 to Middle Tennessee.

There were a pair of costly interceptions by Martevious Young that set up a pair of scores. The final one, by Denny Carmichael with the Blue Raiders leading 35-26 with 2:58 left, led to a touchdown that put the game away.

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Terrance Pope recovered a MTSU fumble early in the third, but the Golden Eagles couldn’t cash in.

Southern Miss was penalized 10 times for 75 yards and could do nothing to stop MTSU quarterback Dwight Dasher, who earned game MVP honors after accounting for four touchdowns through the air and on the ground.

“You’ve got to give Rick Stockstill and Middle Tennessee a lot of credit,” Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora said. “They made more plays than we did. They made more stops than we did and made some things in the special teams happen and we didn’t. We didn’t do those things.”

The start for USM was brilliant. Young was 4-of-5 to start the game and the no-huddle put the Blue Raiders back on their heels. The Golden Eagles were 3-for-3 on third down, as Young hooked up with DeAndre Brown for a key 19-yard pass on the first scoring drive and a 24-yard scoring strike on the second.

The defense managed to hold the potent Blue Raiders in check and the Golden Eagles held a 14-0 lead.

It didn’t last.

The wheels fell off midway through the second quarter. The offense stalled, converting only one third down opportunity and managing only a Daniel Hrapmman field goal the rest of the first half. His chipshot gave Southern Miss its final lead, 17-14 at halftime.

The key to Young’s uneven performance was up front.

Despite not getting a sack, the Blue Raiders’ front seven made Young’s job much harder from that point. Well-timed blitzes threw off his timing, even on short routes, and good open-field tackling kept the catch-and-run plays from blowing up into big ones. The Blue Raiders also held Damion Fletcher and Tory Harrison in check as the Golden Eagles averaged only 3.3 yards per carry.

“I had been playing pretty well controlling the ball, but it was the two turnovers that really cost us,” Young said. “They disguised what they were doing more. They brought more pressure. They played physical the entire game.”

Middle Tennessee’s nimble quarterback Dasher made a living off the zone read play out of the shotgun formation so beloved by Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. The play allows the backside defensive end to go unblocked and the quarterback makes a read on his intentions as he puts the ball in the stomach of the running back who crosses right in front of him. If the end stays with his assignment, the quarterback gives the ball to the running back. If the end goes after the back, the quarterback keeps the ball and scoots past him.

Using that play, some scrambles and a few designed quarterback runs, Dasher was able to rush for an NCAA bowl-record 201 yards despite leaving the game twice with injuries.

“Obviously, it was difficult stopping him,” Fedora said. “We knew going in that he was a heck of a player, and he showed that tonight. We sent him out a great player. He single handedly did it against us.”


Contact Steve Wilson at swilson@vicksburgpost.com