Southern Miss has won games this season with its offense and defense, sometimes both.
Saturday, the Golden Eagles' special teams stood up and boosted the team to an otherwise sloppy win, 46-30, over Tulane in the Superdome at New Orleans.
"That was the game for us," Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora said. "We won the game in special teams, there is no doubt about it. The kickoff return team made it happen, they were consistently getting us the ball at midfield. Punt team was going down there and causing turnovers, and the kickoff team was hammering their guys. We got the onside kick early in the game. There was no doubt that special teams won this game for us."
Southern Miss averaged 27 yards per kick return, five yards more than its average for the entire season. Fifteen times Southern Miss obtained the ball via kickoff returns or punts, and in eight of those cases it ended up starting drives at its own 40 or better.
Reggie Hunt had 119 kickoff return yards, including 85 on one early in the game that seemed to set the tone for Southern Miss' day.
Southern Miss kicker Daniel Hrapmann made three of four field goals and all his extra points. The punter, Peter Boehme, dropped four balls inside the Tulane 20. The Green Wave finished with only 6 yards on punt returns.
Chico Hunter recovered a muffed Tulane punt at the Green Wave 4, setting up an easy touchdown for Southern Miss.
Southern Miss also elected for a surprise onside kick after its opening scoring drive. Jamie Collins recovered the ball for the Golden Eagles.
"It was a good, ugly win, I can tell you that," Fedora said. "It was not pretty by any means, but I'm happy to have the win. … (The Green Wave) play tough and they made plays and we continued to shoot ourselves in the foot for another week in a row. We have got to execute better than we are executing right now."
• Southern Miss clinched its 17th straight winning season. If the team gets to a bowl game, it will be the ninth in a row. That bowl game streak is one the Golden Eagles share with some of the elite football programs in the country-Florida, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas and USC.
• Golden Eagles sophomore punter Peter Boehme had his best day of the season. He averaged 45.3 yards for his seven kicks, including a 58-yarder. Boehme also had four punts that dropped inside the Tulane 20. Tulane averaged just more than 1 yard per punt return.
• Southern Miss' passing game was hardly impressive. The Golden Eagles totaled 128 yards through the air, completing slightly more than 50 percent of their passes. But wideout Quintin Pierce found other ways to make an impact on the game. He had just 29 receiving yards, but threw a touchdown pass on a trick play and made a key block to spring Tracy Lampley on his 60-yard touchdown run.
Game Ball Goes To: DE Cordarro Law - When a win relies so much on special teams and is considered otherwise sloppy, it's hard to find a true standout. Nobody had truly outstanding stats from the game but Law was a force. He had four tackles, 1.5 for loss, and a forced fumble. Law also had a sack and four quarterback hurries.
Keep An Eye On: RB Kendrick Hardy - The freshman running back's debut as a starter was pedestrian. He had 63 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown. Before Saturday he had gained at least 100 yards in back-to-back games. He has shown great potential all season and, in a starting role, should be more productive in future games.
Quote To Note: "It is nice to get that out of the way but we have to continue to get better every day and every week."-Southern Miss wideout Quentin Pierce on the Golden Eagles achieving bowl eligibility for the 17th straight season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Looking Good: Southern Miss had its most productive day of the season on special teams. The Golden Eagles made three of four field goals, averaged nearly 30 yards per kickoff return-including an 85-yarder to set up a score-and executed an onside kick.
Still Needs Work: Tulane does not have an exceptional passing offense, but it sure looked the part Saturday against Southern Miss. The Green Wave had 246 yards and averaged 11 yards per completion. Tulane also had two passing touchdowns, and Southern Miss forced no interceptions.
• Southern Miss did not report any significant injuries from Saturday's game at Tulane.