Penalties prove problematic for USM
Jay Hopson was animated and irate. Jumping up and down and screaming, the coach tried to make his point to the official and only succeeded in adding to Southern Miss’ ever-increasing penalty total.
It was part of a theme — the black and gold could not win over the black and white.
Southern Miss was penalized 14 times for 120 yards in a 24-10 loss to Tennessee on Saturday night.
The list of penalties included an unsportsmanlike conduct call on Hopson, who went from the sideline to the middle of the field to argue about a personal foul called on his team for leaping during a Tennessee field goal attempt.
Tennessee, meanwhile, was penalized three times for 29 yards.
Hopson didn’t want to comment on the discrepancy or officiating.
“It’s not going to do me any good to talk about it,” Hopson said. “You were at the game. Everybody was at the game. There’s no reason to even talk about it. It is what it is.”
The penalties hurt Southern Miss’ effort, but were only part of a pattern of self-inflicted wounds.
The Golden Eagles also committed two turnovers, both of which led to Tennessee touchdowns.
Emmanuel Moseley’s 19-yard interception return led to John Kelly’s 20-yard touchdown run that extended the Vols’ lead to 17-3 with 5:15 left in the third quarter.
On the Golden Eagles’ next series, Tennessee’s Darrell Taylor sacked Keon Howard and forced a fumble that Rashaan Gaulden recovered at the USM 19. Tennessee initially settled for a 30-yard field goal on its ensuing series, but a leaping penalty kept the drive alive and eventually led to a Kelly 3-yard TD run — as well as Hopson’s unsportsmanlike conduct call.
“The turnovers really killed us right there,” Hopson said. “That was really a tough thing to overcome — bang, bang — two back-to-back turnovers that gave them a quick short field. They took advantage of it.”
Kelly finished with 79 rushing yards and two TDs for Tennessee (4-5), which snapped a four-game losing streak and kept its bowl hopes alive. The Volunteers avoided their first five-game losing streak since 1988.
Southern Miss (5-4) missed a chance to become bowl-eligible, but will have an excellent opportunity to get there next week with a road game at Rice (1-8).
Even with facing a struggling program, USM will need a better overall effort. Its defense held Tennessee in check — the Vols had 210 total yards and were 2-for-13 on third down — but the offense did little to take advantage of it.
Southern Miss gained only 295 yards. Its only points came on Parker Shaunfield’s 27-yard field goal in the second quarter and Kwadra Griggs’ 1-yard keeper with 6:45 left in the game.
Griggs took over in the fourth quarter for Howard, who was 7-of-22 passing for 100 yards and had 10 carries for 29 yards. Griggs finished 6-of-11 for 61 yards. The two quarterbacks were sacked a total of four times.
Star running back Ito Smith carried the ball 20 times for only 51 yards.
“I thought, defensively, we played a whale of a game. I thought anytime you go and hold an SEC team to 200 yards, in their stadium, it’s pretty hard,” Hopson said. “Offensively, we probably didn’t have as much production as we would have liked. We certainly had a couple of turnovers that hurt us. I was proud of our fight on offense at the end. They came back there, and I thought Kwadra (Griggs) got in there and started moving the ball well those last couple of drives. We’re going to take what we got from that fourth quarter and try to move forward.”