Southern Miss rolls Savannah in home debut

Published 12:17 am Sunday, September 11, 2016

HATTIESBURG (AP) — Jay Hopson is 2-for-2 at Southern Miss.

Nick Mullens threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, and the Southern Miss defense allowed the fewest total yards in Conference USA history in a 56-0 win over Savannah State on Saturday night.

“I thought we played pretty well. Adversity hit early with a big turnover and after a nice stop we really picked it up. It’s always good to get the win in front of a home crowd, the guys played hard,” said Hopson, a Vicksburg native who is in his first season as USM’s head coach. “Defensively and offensively we were able to run our whole receiving corps. It is always good when you can get the whole team involved. We know we got a big test coming up next week, but we will enjoy tonight and this win.”

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Savannah State (0-2) had just 41 total yards and three first downs, and completed 4 of 13 passes. Eleven Southern Miss players had a tackle for loss.

“Obviously they’re much better than we are,” Savannah State coach Erik Raeburn said. “We’re not good enough up front and can’t block anybody. Until we start blocking somebody we’re going to struggle to move the football.”

Since trailing 35-10 against Kentucky last Saturday, Southern Miss (2-0) has outscored its opponents 90-0. It’s also 2-0 for the first time since 2009.

“We just want to win. We’re going to keep fighting. We’re going to be tough. We’re going to be nasty. We’re going to embrace everything that Coach Hops preaches and just have to stay focused week by week and practice by practice and continue to get better,” Mullens said.

Mullens completed 16 of 20 passes for 216 yards. Ito Smith had 128 rushing yards — including an 86-yard touchdown run — and George Payne added 116 and a touchdown on 14 carries. It was the second consecutive game in which Smith and Payne both ran for at least 100 yards, the first time two Southern Miss backs have accomplished that feat since 2008.

Smith’s 86-yard run was the longest in the history of M.M. Roberts Stadium. The previous record was an 84-yarder by Reggie Collier against Texas-Arlington in 1981.

“I got the ball and I got tangled up with a linebacker,” Smith said. “The offensive line did a great job blocking and once I broke the tackle, I went around the end and Isaiah Jones was blocking really well. He took out two guys for me so that was big.”

Mullens scored on a 1-yard run and then hit Korey Robertson for a 22-yard touchdown before Smith’s score on the last play of the first quarter made it 21-0.

Mullens sandwiched touchdown passes to Isaiah Jones and D.J. Thompson around Allenze Staggers’ 75-yard punt return for a score and Payne added an 11-yard touchdown run to make it 49-0 at halftime.

Staggers’ punt return touchdown was the first for the Golden Eagles since 2011.

USM will host Troy next week.