Posted by Jerry Hinnen
SOUTHERN MISS WON: Keeping Houston out of a BCS bowl just cost the Golden Eagles somewhere in the neighborhood $1.6 million, but we don't think they much mind at the moment. Over three quarters the Golden Eagle defense held Case Keenum and Co. to under 300 total yards and just two scoring drives longer than 5 yards, helping Austin Davis (17-of-33, 279 yards, 4 TDs) and the USM offense to build an insurmountable 21-point fourth-quarter lead. Running back/receiver Tracy Lampley finished with 196 total yards, 125 of them receiving.
WHY SOUTHERN MISS WON: We could hem and haw about the specifics, but this game was about Southern Miss being the better team, top-to-bottom, hands-down. Their defense was better, harassing Keenum in a way few teams have -- All-CUSA end Cordarro Law was a terror -- and stoning the Cougar running game on multiple 3rd-and-shorts. Their running game was better, with Lampley, Desmond Johnson, and Austin Davis combining to average 5.4 yards over their 33 carries; the 11-play, 80-yard third-quarter touchdown drive that put the Eagles up 35-21 and firmly in control of the game featured Johnson converting 3rd-and-13 and 3rd-and-9 on the ground, plays unthinkable for Houston's meek rushing game to pull off. They had the better special teams, thanks to a blocked Houston punt returned by Furious Bradley for a touchdown.
And most damaging for the Cougars, Southern Miss had the better quarterback. Davis wasn't perfect, but he outplayed Keenum, who seemed bothered by the pressure, misfired on several passes, and finished with his lowest yards per-attempt (5.6) of the season. There simply wasn't a facet of the game where Houston was better. Not only did the Golden Eagles deserve the victory, they deserved to take it home by three touchdowns.
WHEN SOUTHERN MISS WON: Down 21 and desperate, Keenum converted on fourth down and took the Cougars to first down at the Eagle 19. But a sack and two incompletions set up 4th-and-16, and Law tore into the backfield for the sack that would essentially end the game.
WHAT SOUTHERN MISS WON: Their first Conference USA championship since 2003 and first under Larry Fedora. (Maybe their last under Fedora, too, as many coaching candidate lists as he's on.) As joyous as Saturday's triumph was, the Eagles still have to think about what might have been--if not for losses to Marshall and UAB, teams with a combined 9-15 record, Southern Miss would be off to a BCS bowl.
WHAT HOUSTON LOST: Oh, not much: just a perfect season, any hope for a Keenum Heisman, the conference title, a BCS bowl berth, millions of dollars. But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?