Two years ago North Texas came in with a young squad and pulled off a comeback at the Rock that propelled the Seth Littrell-led team to the forefront of the west division. Since, North Texas has been in the title game, or favored to return there. Meanwhile, Southern Miss has tried to find a QB, tried to replace Ito Smith, and tried to retool the talented defense.
You would not have much of an argument if after tonight you consider that work done. Jack Abraham out-dueled Mason Fine to the tune of 29/36 421 yards passing and three scores. Whereas two years ago it was Jalen Guyton that was nigh-unguardable, tonight Quez Watkins exploded for 8 grabs and 198 yards receiving to go with a score.
Southern Miss has shown their talent all season. Quez Watkins, Jaylond Adams, Tim Jones, and De’Michael Harris have all shown they need defensive attention paid to them. Tonight, Harris went for 107 on the ground and 2 scores, including a 60-yarder where he could not be caught. He added 79 on the ground on five catches for another score.
Southern Miss kept the inexperienced North Texas defense off balance all night and there was seemingly an open Golden Eagle open on every crucial third down.
In reality, USM was only 6 of 13, but that is solid stuff and it was enough to keep the pressure on the North Texas offense to keep up with the scoring.
The other half of the story was the defense that kept Mason Fine under pressure all night. Fine threw for 217 and three scores but left with a shoulder injury. Fine is famous for getting back up after big hits and he returned to the game after walking off with a shoulder injury before re-injuring it later and staying out. Backup Jason Bean came in but things were already out of hand.
There was a little luck involved — a tipped pass that went off the foot of a falling USM defender was intercepted and returned to set up the USM offense for the go-ahead score in the second quarter. Luck is partly the result of being in good positions, however and no one should apologize for good fortune.
USM looked like the clear better team for much of the night against a flawed squad but one that is still talented and is one of the four contenders for the west crown.
Southern Miss has all the tools on both sides of the ball to give UAB and Louisiana Tech a serious challenge. It would not be the craziest thing to consider them favorites, either.