HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Sophomore quarterback Jack Abraham threw for a career-high 428 yards and matched a career-best with four touchdowns to help Southern Miss pick up a 40-22 victory over Rice in the Conference USA opener for both.
“Good win,” Southern Miss Jay Hopson said. “It’s always good to start conference play with a win. That’s important for us.
“Our guys played well, and I thought we came out in the second half and really played well.”
Abraham completed 25-of-34 passes with an interception. He threw a 28-yard touchdown to Quez Watkins, a 14-yarder to running back Tez Parks, a 6-yarder to Jaylond Adams and a 21-yarder to Tim Jones.
With Saturday’s win Saturday, Southern Miss (2-1, 1-0 C-USA) rebounded from a one-point loss to the Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 8 that lingered even longer when the next game, a road trip to Appalachian State University, was cancelled because of potentially dangerous weather spawned by Hurricane Florence.
That stretch between games saw the return of former starting quarterback Kwarda Griggs, who was reinstated from a month-long sidelining after being suspended indefinitely by the university for an unspecified student code violation.
The break also saw a depth-chart shakeup at running back, with senior back-up T-Rod Daniels announcing his intention to transfer and the elevation of youngsters Steven Anderson and Trivenskey Mosley.
Griggs did not play against the Owls Saturday, but Anderson and Mosley finished as the Golden Eagles’ top two rushers Saturday.
Anderson, who scored his first touchdown as a Golden Eagle on a 1-yard run in the second quarter, finished with 52 yards on eight carries. Anderson gained 50 yards on six carries during a nine-play drive that wiped the final 6 minutes, 49 seconds, of the game from the clock.
Mosely added 42 yards on nine carries, and also caught a pair of passes for eight yards.
Overall, USM netted 138 yards rushing, and finished with a season-high 566 yards total offense against Rice.
“I felt like we did some good things on offense,” Hopson said. “We threw the ball well, and ran the ball well (Saturday). That’s always a plus.”
The Owls (1-3, 0-1) stayed with Southern Miss for most of the first half, trailing 10-8 at the end of the first quarter and 17-15 midway through the second.
Anderson’s touchdown run boosted Golden Eagles’ lead to 24-15 at halftime, and the Golden Eagles scored on its first three possessions of the second half to pull away from the Owls.
Southern Miss harried Rice quarterback Shawn Stankavage into a 13-of-26 passing day, with 125 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Both first-half picks led directly to Southern Miss points.
Cornerback Ty Wiliams gathered in a tipped pass on Rice’s second possession for his first interception as a Golden Eagle, returning it 11 yards to the Owls’ 28.
One play later, Abraham found Watkins with a touchdown throw for the fifth time this season to give Southern Miss a 10-0 lead.
Stankavage’s second interception was the first of sophomore Rachuan Mitchell’s Golden Eagles’ career. Mitchell returned his pick 45 yards to the 1-yard line, setting up Anderson’s run.
The Owls’ ran for 137 yards, but 62 yards came on a touchdown run by Austin Walter in the first quarter. Otherwise, Southern Miss allowed 75 yards on 28 carries (2.7 yards per carry).
“Defensively, I thought we did some good things,” Hopson said. “We created turnovers, that was really positive on defense.”
Parker Shaunfield connected on field goals of 28 yards and 44 yards.
The Golden Eagles will travel to Auburn University (3-1) for a 3 p.m. kickoff Saturday.