Southern Miss falls to No. 19 Louisville, 21-17
HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- With the Southern Miss offense sputtering during a driving rainstorm, the Golden Eagles tried to lean on their defense.
It almost worked.
But No. 19 Louisville rallied in the final minutes to beat Southern Mississippi 21-17 on Saturday at Roberts Stadium, extending the Golden Eagles' worst start to a season since 1976.
"You can point to any one of four, five, six, seven little plays that didn't go our way and it would have made the difference in the ball game," Southern Miss coach Ellis Johnson said. "It just didn't happen."
Southern Miss had a 17-6 lead midway through the second quarter, but Louisville rallied for 15 unanswered points. The Golden Eagles were held to 73 total yards in the second half as the Cardinals slowly chipped away at the lead.
Louisville's Senorise Perry rushed for 118 yards and two touchdowns -- including a 14-yard game-winner in the fourth quarter -- and Jeremy Wright added 84 rushing yards as the Cardinals (5-0) continued their best start since 2006.
"For us to come in and survive the conditions we played under tonight just speaks volumes about our team," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said.
Louisville rallied for the win even though star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was rendered nearly useless because of the driving rain that soaked the turf for nearly the entire night.
With Bridgewater largely a bystander, Perry scored both touchdowns during the rally. His 1-yard score pulled Louisville within 17-12 just before halftime and his final touchdown run -- on third-and-goal from the 14 -- proved to be the game winner.
Even Perry was surprised he ended up in the end zone.
"I was just trying to get us in better field position for a field goal, but as a running back we are coached to look for the end zone," Perry said. "When the hole opened up, I just tried to muscle it in."
Southern Miss (0-4) had a chance to win on the final drive, but a halfback pass by Desmond Johnson fell incomplete on fourth down.
"Defensively, we were able to get the big stops," Strong said. "When we played well it sparked our whole team. They had the drive there at the end and we just kept bringing the pressure and found a way to get one more stop."
Bridgewater came into the game averaging 262.2 yards passing, but was held to 9-of-13 passing for 85 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Louisville looked like it would cruise early in the first quarter. Bridgewater turned a beautiful play-action fake into a 29-yard touchdown pass to DeVante Parker and a 6-0 lead.
But then the light showers turned into a full-blown downpour, making it all but impossible to effectively pass. The field turf turned into a gigantic lake, with an inch of water covering nearly the entire playing surface.
That's when things started going south for the Cardinals -- whose short-passing offense has been so effective. Bridgewater tried a short pass to Parker later in the first quarter, but it slipped through his hands and right to Southern Miss cornerback Reggie Hunt, who returned it 23 yards for a touchdown.
Then the Golden Eagles drove the field twice in a row, scoring on a 21-yard field goal by Corey Acosta and a 1-yard run by Jalen Richard to push their lead to 17-6. Big runs by Johnson (50 yards) and Kendrick Hardy (44 yards) were instrumental on each of those drives.
The running backs for both teams had a huge advantage because the defense couldn't change directions on the waterlogged field, but only if snaps and handoffs were executed properly. Both teams fumbled several exchanges.
Louisville scored a touchdown on Perry's 1-yard run late in the second quarter, but the two-point conversion failed, and the Cardinals trailed 17-12 at halftime.
Southern Miss went the entire first half without completing a pass.
Louisville's John Wallace made a 38-yard field goal late in the third quarter to pull the Cardinals within 17-15. The Golden Eagles tried to answer, but Acosta's 48-yard field goal attempt banged off the left upright and fell into the end zone.
That's when Southern Miss' mistakes started to add up.
Peter Boehme nearly whiffed on a punt deep in Southern Miss territory, and it skipped just 6 yards. Louisville took over at the Golden Eagles' 22 and six plays later scored on Perry's 14-yard touchdown run.
Southern Miss freshman Ricky Lloyd -- the third-string quarterback who made his first career start after injuries to Chris Campbell and Anthony Alford -- completed just 2 of 8 passes for 25 yards. Johnson rushed for a team-high 99 yards.
"Let's face it -- the rain and water conditions hampered everybody's throwing game," Johnson said. "I thought in the second half (Lloyd) made some good plays. He'll only get better."
But there was little doubt that the Southern Miss offense was predictable. And Louisville made the Golden Eagles pay.
"It was a sloppy fest out there," Louisville defensive tackle Brandon Dunn said. "They weren't going to throw it. We locked down the run and played like we knew they weren't going to pass."
Louisville has won the past six meetings in the series dating back to 1999.
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Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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