Football Holds Off UTSA for a 31-29 C-USA Road Victory
SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Southern Miss turned out to be full of surprises Saturday night at the Alamodome.
For starters, quarterback Keon Howard got his second start of the season in a late-week decision.
Then, the Golden Eagles pull off a an old-fashioned flea-flicker for one of three touchdowns they scored in a span of 3 minutes, 27 seconds in the late third quarter/early fourth quarter. In fact, Southern Miss scored on three consecutive offensive plays at one point, doing it for the first time since beating Louisiana Tech on Nov. 28, 2015.
The play was part of a Southern Miss offense that rolled up 458 yards total offense against Conference USA's top-rated defense.
But the Golden Eagles saved the best for last, holding on for 31-29 C-USA road victory over previously unbeaten UTSA.
With their second road win of the season, Southern Miss (3-2, 1-1 C-USA) put themselves back in the West Division conversation by nearly scoring more points (31) than the Roadrunners (3-1, 0-1) had allowed in their first three games combined (41).
Senior running back Ito Smith capped off the game-changing, three-touchdown scoring binge with the longest touchdown run in the football program's history.
Smith, who became the second-leading rusher in Southern Miss career annals, burst up the middle and outraced the Roadrunners for an 89-yard score to cap a 21-point rally that erased a 13-7 UTSA halftime lead and left the Golden Eagles up 28-13.
UTSA rallied on Jared Sackett's third field goal of the game and a pair of touchdown passes from Dalton Sturm to Marquez McNair, the second on coming with just 48 seconds to play.
But Sturm's potential, game-tying two-point conversion pass was incomplete as Cornell Armstrong made a nice defensive play.
UTSA's on-side kick attempt went out of bounds and USM just needed a couple snaps to run out the clock.
Howard, who started in place of Kwadra Griggs, completed 15 of 20 passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns without an interception and came up clutch for the Golden Eagles.
After an end zone interception and 61-yard return by Curtis Mikell, Howard capped a 39-yard drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Korey Robertson that lifted Southern Miss into a 14-13 lead. It was Robertson's fifth touchdown catch of the season, surpassing the combined four he had caught in his first two seasons with the Golden Eagles.
Southern Miss forced a three-and-out, and got the ball back at the UTSA 48. On the first play, the Golden Eagles pulled off a flea flicker, with Howard finding Quez Watkins for a 48-yard touchdown and a 21-13 lead.
Southern Miss forced another UTSA punt, and got the ball back at its own 11-yard line. On first down, Smith found a big hole up the middle and simply outran defenders for an 89-yard touchdown run and a 28-13 lead.
Smith's scoring run was the longest scoring run in program history, topping 87-yard touchdown runs by Bo Dickinson (vs. Dayton, 1956) and Bubba Phillips (vs. Northwestern (La.) State, 1947).
After being limited to 38 yards in the first half, Smith finished with 178 yards on 17 carries, averaging 10.8 yards a carry.
Sturm, who threw for 367 yards and three touchdowns, got the Roadrunners back within 28-20 on a 28-yard pass to McNair, the nephew of former NFL great Steve McNair.
Howard was stripped from behind and UTSA recovered at Southern Miss' 32-yard line. But the Golden Eagles forced the Roadrunners to settle for a 44-yard field goal by Sackett that cut the lead to 28-23 with 7:33 left to play.
But Southern Miss went 69 yards on 12 plays, taking 5:37 off the clock, as Parker Shaunfield pushed the lead back to eight points with a 24-yard field goal with just 1:56 to play.
After a 46-yard kickoff return, Sturm sped UTSA 53 yards, capping the drive with a 24-yard pass to McNair with 48 seconds to play and getting the Roadrunners within a two-point conversion to tie the game.
But Sturm's pass was low, falling incomplete.
UTSA had come in allowing just 207 yards total offense a game. USM rolled up 458 yards total offense, including 246 yards rushing.
The Roadrunners had 27 first downs to Southern Miss' 18, had 76 offensive snaps to Southern Miss' 51 and had the ball for more than 12 minutes longer than the Golden Eagles.
But Southern Miss averaged nine yards a play and made the three-touchdown scoring burst stand up in the end.
Watkins led Southern Miss receivers with five catches for 78 yards, while Robertson had two coaches for 45b yards. Tight end Jay-Shawn Washington had two catches for 54 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown grab to cap the Golden Eagles' opening possession of the game.
Greg Campbell led UTSA with 10 catches for 108 yards Jalen Stewart had five catches for 101 yards, including a 21-yard TD grab in the first half that gave the Roadrunners a 10-7 lead.
In 2016, UTSA running back Jalen Rhodes punished Southern Miss for 165 yards and three touchdowns. Saturday night, Rhodes finished with 28 yards on 14 carries as the Roadrunners netted just 102 yards rushing.
Southern Miss will return to M.M. Roberts Stadium at 6 p.m. Saturday, when the Golden Eagles host UTEP for homecoming.