STARKVILLE – Southern Miss football gave Mississippi State a scare on Saturday, but didn’t capitalize on enough opportunities in a 41-20 loss at Davis Wade Stadium.
The Golden Eagles, despite conceding 23 consecutive points after taking a 7-0 lead, cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 26-20 with 7:52 to play on a 98-yard kickoff return touchdown by wide receiver Jakarius Caston. It was Caston’s second touchdown of the quarter after grabbing a 44-yard touchdown to make it 23-13 five minutes prior.
But, Mississippi State finally broke through Southern Miss’ inspiring defensive performance on the ensuing possession with a 59-yard touchdown run by Jeffery Pittman to go up 34-20 with 7:14 to play. Then, Billy Wiles threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown with 3:20 remaining for the dagger.
The Golden Eagles (3-8, 2-5 Sun Belt Conference) have one more game remaining in the 2023 season when it hosts Troy on Nov. 25 (11 a.m., ESPNU).
Ethan Crawford starts at QB, leaves early with injury, but returns
After the Southern Miss defense turned Mississippi State (5-6, 1-6 SEC) over on downs near midfield to open the game, quarterback Ethan Crawford made a statement.
Crawford, the tantalizing freshman who made his first career start, hit Caston over the top for a 44-yard pass on the second snap of the drive. That set up an early first-and-goal for the Golden Eagles. Three plays later, Crawford dished a screen pass to Frank Gore Jr., who plunged untouched into the end zone for an 8-yard score.
However, the offense hit a rut after that, punting on three straight possessions.
Then, Crawford was strip-sacked deep in Southern Miss territory and Mississippi State recovered. Wiles came in at quarterback on the Golden Eagles next drive with Crawford on the sidelines appearing to have his right throwing arm examined by team trainers.
Wiles played the next three drives until Crawford returned to start the second half. He and Wiles split snaps in the third quarter, but Wiles took them all in the fourth quarter after Crawford made a wonky throw when he came back on the field.
Southern Miss defense gets off to hot start
It’s fascinating to consider given how the season has gone, but Southern Miss’ defense resoundingly kept it in Saturday’s game.
The Bulldogs scored their lone first-half touchdown on an 8-play, 53-yard drive, but besides that, Southern Miss gave them fits — with the help of a multitude of catchable drops.
Through the first half, Mississippi State punted four times and turned it over on downs once. Six of the Bulldogs points came on a pair of field goals when they started drives on the USM 37 and 14-yard lines.
Mississippi State opened the second half with a touchdown, but had fits again in the second half. That was until Pittman’s long touchdown run.
Strange penalty kills promising Southern Miss drive
The Golden Eagles attempted a trick play midway through the third quarter where wide receiver Ti Mims lined up just a few steps from their bench. He was never covered by a Mississippi State defender and snuck down the sideline to haul in a 22-yard pass from Wiles.
However, Southern Miss was assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty because of the play. The official said Mims never stepped inside the numbers before aligning out wide, prompting the penalty. That backed Southern Miss up 15 yards into a 2nd and 21 from its own 37-yard line instead of first down at Mississippi State’s 33.
The Golden Eagles punted two plays later.
First appeared on www.hattiesburgamerican.com