New QB Wiles shines as Southern Miss zooms past Alcorn State

Published 12:03 am Sunday, September 3, 2023

HATTIESBURG — Southern Miss spent all of last season trying to find a quarterback. One game into this one, it appears they’ve got their man.

Billy Wiles threw for 267 yards and three touchdowns, and Southern Miss was never threatened in thrashing Alcorn State 40-14 in the season opener on Saturday night.

Wiles, a Clemson transfer making his first college start, completed 21 of 28 passes and led the Golden Eagles on three consecutive scoring drives to begin the game. Jakarius Caston had five receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown.

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“There’s always things that can get better and I expect to find things that I can get better at when I go back and watch the film, but the main thing for me is I just wanted to go have fun and let loose out there, and I feel like I got that done,” said Wiles, a redshirt sophomore who did not play at all in 2022.

The Eagles’ Jay Stanley came up with the first of two interceptions against Alcorn State quarterback Tyler Macon on the second play from scrimmage. Southern Miss took advantage and went up 7-0 when Wiles threw a 16-yard touchdown to Caston.

After forcing the Braves to a three-and-out on their next possession, Frank Gore Jr. ended a seven-play, 63-yard drive with a 9-yard TD run. Southern Miss added a 25-yard field goal by Andrew Stein for a 17-0 lead with 4:03 left in the first quarter.

“I thought we really came out firing on all cylinders. We started fast and the opening drive was a lot of fun, man,” Southern Miss coach Will Hall said.

After Stein’s field goal, Macon raced 75 yards for a touchdown for Alcorn State’s biggest highlight of the contest. The play accounted for a third of the Braves’ yardage total (226).

Macon had a team-high 83 rushing yards, but he and Aaron Allen combined to complete only 5 of 14 passes for 44 yards, with two interceptions. The Braves’ other touchdown came on a 15-yard run by Niko Duffey in the fourth quarter, long after the game had been decided.

“We came out in the first quarter a little jittery and we were just trying to get settled in. I thought we settled down in the second quarter and made some plays. Just the first quarter really got away from us,” Alcorn coach Fred McNair said.

Stein added three more field goals for Southern Miss, from 23, 52 and 41 yards.

Gore caught a 2-yard TD pass from Wiles early in the second quarter. Gore only had 29 rushing yards on six carries, to go along with three receptions, but the Golden Eagles ran for 145 as a team. Ten players had at least one rushing attempt, with Rodrigues Clark finishing atop the list with nine for 54 yards.

Gore rushed for 1,439 yards last season on 228 attempts, and Hall said his limited workload in the opener came with an eye on the big picture. Southern Miss goes on the road to play No. 8 Florida State next week.

“We felt like the game was in control and we have a long season ahead of us. We’ve got Florida State next week and if we would have gotten Frank hurt in that third quarter, we would all be sitting in here puking right now,” Hall said. “Frank is a proven guy that has a lot of tread on his tires. He had nothing to prove in the second half. He did his damage, and he knows that. We’ve got a long season and bigger fish to fry.”