New Orleans Bowl grades: Southern Miss offense runs wild versus Louisiana Lafayette
Southern Miss Golden Eagles 28, Louisiana Lafayette Ragin Cajuns 21
Here are the top-graded players and biggest takeaways from Southern Miss’ 28-21 New Orleans Bowl win over Louisiana Lafayette:
Southern Miss Golden Eagles
Quarterback grade: Nick Mullens, 77.8
Offensive line provides ample protection for Mullens
Southern Mississippi’s all-time passing leader was provided time in the pocket, and the senior quarterback made the most of it. Nick Mullens was under pressure on only 13 of his 43 dropbacks and averaged 5.5 yards on six completions during that time. Louisiana couldn’t maintain that pass rush throughout the game, and Mullens did most of his damage when not pressured, completing 19 of 30 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns as he took advantage of coverage breakdowns by Louisiana’s defense throughout the game. He took a fair amount of deep shots but finished 1-of-9 for 55 yards on passes traveling 20-plus yards, and he instead found most of his success between 10 and 20 yards downfield, completing all eight attempts for 188 yards in that range.
Top offensive grades:
RB Ito Smith, 87.7
WR Allenzae Staggers, 82.2
T Ty Pollard, 78.6
T Wil Freeman, 77.6
C Cameron Tom, 75.2
Ito Smith and Allenzae Staggers shine for Golden Eagles
Running back Ito Smith put his elusiveness on display for the Ragin Cajun defense on his way to his eighth 100-yard game of the season. Louisiana was grasping at air at times during some of Smith’s runs, as he forced 10 missed tackles in the game and 93 of his 133 yards came after contact. In the passing game it was Allenzae Staggers who came up big for the Golden Eagles, as he hauled in 11 of his 13 targets for 230 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Nick Mullens had a rating of 144.4 when throwing in Staggers’ direction. Tackles Ty Pollard and Wil Freeman both had solid games in pass protection, as each graded over 80 in that category, while the top-graded run-blocker was center Cameron Tom at 69.1.
Top defensive grades:
ED Ja’Boree Poole, 83.0
S Tarvarius Moore, 82.5
CB Cornell Armstrong, 79.3
CB Curtis Mikell, 78.5
DI Dylan Bradley, 74.8
Poole provides pressure for the defense
Outside linebacker Ja’Boree Poole was a nuisance to Louisiana’s offense throughout the night, as he filled the stat sheet with three sacks, two quarterback hurries and a quarterback hit. Those three sacks gave him eight on the season to go with his 18 hurries. The trio in the secondary of Curtis Mikell, Tarvarius Moore and Cornell Armstrong was targeted a combined eight times but only surrendered one catch for 12 yards with two pass breakups and an interception by Moore. Defensive tackle Dylan Bradley continued his strong season with another productive performance, recording two sacks and clogging running lanes as he recorded a team high 77.7 run-defense grade.
Louisiana Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns
Quarterback grade: Anthony Jennings, 59.8
Jennings inaccurate throughout the game
Since his days at LSU, Anthony Jennings has never excelled throwing the football. The graduate transfer does the majority of his damage with quarterback designed runs and keeping the ball off the read option. The Southern Miss defense did a fairly good job of containing him on the ground, as he carried 15 times for 71 yards, and they did a great job shutting down his passing game, as he completed only 42 percent of his throws for 102 yards, that comes out to a very poor 4.9 yards per attempt. Jennings was under pressure on 12 of his 28 dropbacks and showed his inability to keep his eyes downfield during that time, completing 1 of 5 attempts while also being sacked six times.
Top offensive grades:
C Eddie Gordon, 80.6
RB Elijah McGuire, 79.4
WR Al Riles, 75
G Kevin Dotson, 70.2
WR Ja’Marcus Bradley, 63.3
Elijah McGuire ends senior season with a strong performance
One of the few bright spots for the Louisiana offense was running back Elijah McGuire, as he has been all year. He finished the game with 99 yards on 17 carries and forced seven missed tackles. It wasn’t just the run game where he excelled, as he also made a few key blocks leading the way for quarterback Anthony Jennings on a handful of draws. Wide receiver Al Riles was accountable for 64 of the offense’s 104 passing yards, catching five of his seven targets with 56 yards after the catch.
Top defensive grades:
CB Simeon Thomas, 81.5
CB Christian Goodlett, 81.0
DI Kevon Perry, 76.1
LB Otha Peters, 76.0
S Damar’ren Mitchell, 75.8
Defense can’t overcome big plays early
On the first play of Southern Mississippi’s opening series, they connected on a 55-yard pass to a streaking wide-open receiver. That would tell the story for Louisiana’s defense, as there appeared to be a breakdown in coverage and the big plays hampered them throughout. They gave up almost 500 yards of offense, with 346 coming through the air. The front seven found it tough to get any consistent pressure on opposing quarterback Mullens — defensive end Trev Miller was the most productive, recording three hurries and a QB hit. The run defense had a tough time bottling up running back Ito Smith, as they missed 10 tackles, however, safety Damar’ren Mitchell played well in the box as he finished with a run-defense grade of 84.7.