Southern Miss running back Frank Gore Jr. stayed close to the hurt – relished it, even.
The Golden Eagles’ star endured back-to-back three-win seasons in his first two seasons in Hattiesburg, playing for four different head coaches. As he explained throughout the 2022 season, he knew that the perspective acquired from those trials would make the payoff that much sweeter when it eventually arrived.
Saturday night, Gore ensured he got that payoff. He dragged the Golden Eagles (7-6) by their collective ear to a 38-24 LendingTree Bowl victory over Rice (5-8) at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile, Alabama.
Gore did not merely set a Southern Miss single-game record by rushing for 329 yards and two touchdowns. He also set the FBS bowl record as well.
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Just that contribution alone would not befit his importance to a team that has needed him to do just about everything this season, including lining up under center.
Gore also completed two of his three passes, highlighted by an 18-yard touchdown pass to Ty Mims that tied the game at 24 late in the third quarter.
He completed his outrageous performance with a 55-yard touchdown run, weaving in and out of defenders to put the Golden Eagles up 38-24 with 2:57 remaining and surpass the 300-yard threshold on the day.
USM cruises through first half, but Rice fights back
Southern Miss looked well on its way to a nice, easy blowout victory in a game it was comfortably favored to win by the sportsbooks.
The Golden Eagles went into halftime with a 17-3 advantage, having outplayed their opponents by a wide margin. But things are rarely so simple for Southern Miss, and they weren’t Saturday night.
The Owls then rattled off three touchdown drives in the first seven minutes of the third quarter, helped by a Southern Miss fumble on its first possession of the half.
That put the Owls up 24-17, but they couldn’t hold the lead for long.
Southern Miss defense locks down
The Golden Eagle defense has been the team’s rock throughout the season, and it showcased why after it was gashed for that trio of third-quarter touchdowns.
It got a vital stop on its next possession, then forced a turnover-on-downs with a stand inside its own 10-yard line as Rice looked to tie the game early in the fourth quarter.
The Owls then went backward on their next two drives. By then, the Golden Eagles had restored their two-possession lead, and the game was as good as over.