Southern Miss Golden Eagels @ Virginia Cavaliers Football Recap
Southern Mississippi 30, Virginia 24
The Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles knew that they had performed below expectations in the first three weeks of the new season. They were aware that if they didn’t escape the shadows of Monticello with a scalp in hand, they were going to face a hard climb on the road to a bowl game. Few national cameras were trained on Saturday’s soiree at Scott Stadium between Southern Miss and the Virginia Cavaliers, but the value of USM’s victory in Charlottesville is certainly substantial, and that point can’t be stressed enough.
When the Golden Eagles lost at Marshall in week two of their season, they already fell behind Central Florida and East Carolina in the East Division of Conference USA. The setback was particularly damaging not just because it came within the context of league competition, but because it immediately eliminated any forward momentum this team might have derived from August camp. USM head coach Larry Fedora was definitely under pressure to win big this year – at least nine wins – after hovering just above .500 in his first three seasons on the job in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Fedora’s predecessor, Jeff Bower, didn’t reinvent the wheel at USM, but he consistently turned in winning seasons and made bowl games. Fedora hasn’t done any worse than Bower, but he was hired by Southern Miss Athletic Director Richard Giannini to win at a higher rate. When the Golden Eagles lost to Marshall, any expectation of winning at a particularly lofty level took a big hit.
This, in short, is what made this clash with Virginia so vital for Fedora and the USM program. A failure against a lower-tier ACC program, one that has languished at the bottom of the league and shows no signs of improvement under second-year boss Mike London, would have further crippled the Golden Eagles. A loss to the Cavaliers – and this is not an exaggeration at all – would have pulled the plug on USM’s season before the Conference USA race began to take shape. Now that the Eagles have escaped ACC country with a win, they can breathe easier and go about the C-USA slate with a refreshed mindset.
The main reason Southern Miss prevailed and saved its month of September was quarterback Austin Davis. The upperclassman threw three touchdown passes, but his biggest play of the game was a 3rd and 23 he converted with three minutes left in regulation with USM clinging to a 27-24 lead. A 41-yard pass to teammate Tracy Lampley didn’t lead to a game-sealing touchdown. No, USM didn’t make things supremely easy for itself; it failed to register a kill shot and a 34-24 lead. However, the third-and-forever conversion did buy the visitors an extra minute and a half of time. When USM kicker Danny Hrapmann hit a 27-yard field goal with 1:31 to go, Virginia not only had to get a touchdown to win; it had a minimal amount of time on its side. On UVa’s final possession, the Cavs – behind inconsistent quarterback Michael Rocco – gained only one first down. USM made a fourth-down stop in the middle of the field, and the deed had been done for the kids from C-USA.
Southern Miss consolidated momentum on multiple occasions by picking off Rocco three times. The Golden Eagles trailed 13-7 late in the first quarter, but established a lead with 12 minutes left in the first half and maintained that lead the rest of the way.