MEMPHIS — Southern Mississippi had tried for a couple of games to get the passing combination of Austin Davis-to-Kelvin Bolden untracked.
On Saturday, Memphis’ defenders gave the Golden Eagles pair the defensive look that led to a big day for the quarterback and receiver.
Davis threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns, including one to Bolden, to lead Southern Mississippi to a 41-19 victory over Memphis.
Davis completed 19 of 30 passes. Bolden was on the receiving end of eight passes for a career-high 154 yards as the Golden Eagles (5-2, 2-1 Conference USA) won for the fifth time in their last six games. Their lone loss in the streak was the previous week to East Carolina 44-43.
“Their safeties are very run-oriented,” Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora said of the Tigers. “They’ve got a lot of tackles and they get up in there to stop the run.”
He added that Golden Eagles coaches had been trying to get the ball more to Bolden in recent games, but the opponents’ pass coverage hadn’t allowed it. Memphis’ approach was different.
“They stayed in that coverage, and we thought we were going to get it to Bolden early,” Fedora said of the game plan.
Kendrick Hardy rushed for 101 yards on 11 carries and a second-half touchdown for Southern Miss.
Bolden said the early success in the passing game — he had already surpassed his career-high with 105 receiving yards in the first half — allowed a more balanced attack for Southern Miss.
“A lot of things opened up for us, for the whole offense,” he said. “It really opened it up a lot more for the running game.”
The Golden Eagles defense, ranked 11th in the nation in yards allowed per game (a 291-yard average) did its job, limiting the Tigers (1-6, 0-4) to 269 yards, including only 32 on the ground.
Memphis quarterback Ryan Williams was 11-for-21 passing for 237 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The loss was the fourth straight for the Tigers, who have dropped their last three games by a combined score of 145-26.
“Obviously, we dug ourselves another hole and put ourselves in position to not respond,” Memphis coach Larry Porter said. “It was hard to overcome in terms of the way that we were playing.”
Despite that, defensively, Memphis had 10 tackles for losses, and linebacker Jamon Hughes was involved in 21 tackles, matching the second-best performance in school history.
Southern Miss held a 24-6 lead at the break as Davis threw a pair of touchdown passes.
Both teams scored on their first possessions, although the Golden Eagles’ was confusing. Danny Hrapmann’s 36-yard field goal attempt hit the right upright and was called no good by the two officials under the goal post. However, after a meeting with the rest of the crew and a video review, the kick was ruled good.
The kick was Hrapmann’s 17th consecutive field goal, but he would miss a 42-yarder later in the half, breaking the string.
Memphis answered with a five-play, 60-yard drive, keyed by Williams’ passing. He missed only one of four throws in the drive, the key completion a 45-yarder to Curtis Johnson. The touchdown came on a slant pattern from Williams to Marcus Rucker for 22 yards.
Otherwise, the Tigers’ rushing offense was non-existent as Memphis managed only 11 yards on the ground in the half. A pair of Tigers fumbles contributed to Southern Miss scores. Davis’ first-half scoring passes came from 6 yards to Johdrick Morris and 11 yards to Desmond Johnson.
Johnson would add a 2-yard touchdown run in the half.
Southern Miss maintained its advantage in the second half as Hrapmann added another field goal — this one from 21 yards. Bolden’s touchdown came on a 28-yard pass from Davis, while Hardy, who had 94 yards in the fourth quarter alone, added a 59-yard touchdown run.
Memphis managed a pair of field goals from Paulo Henriques — 45 and 47 yards — after the break, and Williams connected with Rucker for an 81-yard scoring play.
Rucker ended the game with four catches for 155 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“He made some plays, but we have to have that throughout the course of the game,” Porter said of Rucker. “He is the one consistent guy at the receiver position that has shown up the best he can in every game.”
The Associated Press