USM rallies to knock off Kentucky

Published 12:16 am Sunday, September 4, 2016

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — It didn’t take long for Jay Hopson to make a statement at Southern Miss.

Nick Mullens ran for two 1-yard touchdowns — including the go-ahead score late in the third quarter — and passed for two TDs as Southern Miss scored 34 unanswered points to upset Kentucky 44-35 in its season opener on Saturday night.

The big surge gave Hopson, a Vicksburg native and Warren Central graduate, a victory in his debut as the Golden Eagles’ coach.

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Kentucky appeared in control with a 35-10 second quarter lead as Drew Barker threw TD passes of 72, 43, 9 and 53 yards on drives totaling 13 plays. Jojo Kemp’s 7-yard TD run seemed to provide a cushion that the Wildcats’ defense complemented with three interceptions of Mullens.

Neither Mullens nor the Golden Eagles panicked as he answered Kentucky’s final score with a 71-yard TD pass to Isaiah Jones with 26 seconds left before halftime. Mullens then sandwiched 1-yard TD runs around an 18-yard scoring pass to Julian Allen, followed by two Parker Schaunfield field goals.

Mullens finished 18-of-28 passing for 258 yards.

Running back Ito Smith rushed for 173 yards and a touchdown on 36 carries as the Golden Eagles scored on seven of their last eight possessions.

Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson got the final word against his former team as Southern Miss outgained Kentucky 554-443 and dominated the final 32 minutes. The victory ended Southern Miss’ 13-game losing streak to Southeastern Conference schools.

The Golden Eagles aim to follow up their big win when they host FCS Savannah State next weekend.

Barker, who went 15-of-24 for 323 yards and four touchdowns for Kentucky, set career highs in yards and touchdown passes. Wide receiver Garrett Johnson hauled in six catches for 143 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while running back Stanley Williams posted 94 yards on the ground on 13 attempts.