HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — North Texas came into Saturday’s game at Southern Miss ranked second nationally among Football Bowl Subdivision teams with 20 takeaways.
The Mean Green likely will stay among the leaders after collecting five turnovers, as North Texas simply overpowered the Golden Eagles in the first half on its way to a 55-14 rout at Roberts Stadium.
“We were trying to take away any hope that they could win the football game early,” North Texas coach Dan McCarney said.
Derek Thompson threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another in the first half as the Mean Green ran out to a 41-7 lead.
“It’s nice when we can march up and down the field and do what we want to do and be able to go with tempo,” Thompson said.
Running backs Antoinne Jimmerson, Brandin Byrd and Reggie Pegram each scored twice for North Texas (5-3, 3-1 C-USA), which won its third, consecutive conference game and posted back-to-back road victories for the first time since 2004.
McCarney said an expanded deck of playmakers will help the Mean Green in the long haul.
“That’s what we are looking for — depth, competition, more playmakers,” McCarney said. “Don’t just go out there and compete. Anyone can compete. Go make plays.
Before a homecoming crowd of 23,203, the Golden Eagles (0-7, 0-3) added to the Football Bowl Subdivision’s longest active losing streak, dropping their 19th consecutive game.
The loss assured Southern Miss back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1933-34.
“It hurts now,” said first-year Southern Miss coach Todd Monken. “It hurts for our seniors and for our older kids that continue to fight and we have five weeks left together. No one is coming to rescue us.”
In his first career start, Southern Miss freshman quarterback Nick Mullens completed 12 of 31 passes for 210 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. He also lost two fumbles after being sacked.
The five turnovers gave the Golden Eagles 26 giveaways in seven games this season.
North Texas went up 13-0 in the first quarter on a 46-pass from Thompson to Brelan Chancellor and a 2-yard run by Pegram.
Southern Miss got within 13-7 on Mullens’ 59-yard scoring pass to Dominique Sullivan early in the second quarter.
But the Mean Green answered immediately, scoring 28 consecutive points. The first TD came after going 61 yards in just five plays, with Byrd punching it in from 1-yard out for a 20-7 lead. Thompson found Jimmerson for a 15-yard touchdown, and then scored on 6-yard run on the next drive. Following a Mullens’ interception, Jimmerson scored on a 6-yard run with 37 seconds left in the half to make it 41-7.
A North Texas fumble inside its 5-yard line set up a 2-yard touchdown run by freshman running back George Payne to open the third quarter for Southern Miss. But Pegram and Byrd each added short touchdown runs later in the half as North Texas posted its season-high for points and the Golden Eagles allowed 50 or more points for the fourth time this season.
Pegram led North Texas with 74 yards on 19 carries, while Byrd added 61 yards on 20 carries. The Mean Green netted 229 yards of its 529 yards total offense on the ground.
Southern Miss had trouble getting North Texas off the field. The Mean Green converted 11 of 17 third downs, including 7-of-8 conversions in the first half.
“We had a hard time in the first half getting off the field on third downs,” Monken said. “That has been an issue for us. It has been brought up to me before. I get it.
“We have to find a way to get off the field and we have to find a way to score more. That’s the bottom line.”
North Texas is one victory away from snapping an eight-year string of losing seasons and going to a bowl game for the first time since meeting Southern Miss in the New Orleans Bowl.
To help assure that, McCarney said the Mean Green needs to work on cleaning up its mistakes. Thompson threw two interceptions and North Texas lost two fumbles.
“Clearly, the turnovers were ridiculous,” McCarney said. “How about scoring 55 points and still turning it over four times? It’s just inexcusable.
“Gotta get that fixed in a hurry. In five days, we play again on national television, so we better get that fixed in a hurry.”
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