HATTIESBURG, MS. - Saturday night, North Texas did what a good team does to a struggling opponent: put foot to throat, apply pressure, and extinguish hope.
The result was a 55-14 demolition of Southern Mississippi, a victory that moved the Mean Green (5-3 overall, 3-1 in Conference USA) within one win of being bowl eligible for the first time since 2004, extended their win streak to three, and emphatically put to rest its former road struggles with a second-straight impressive road triumph.
The Golden Eagles, a program accustomed to winning but now embroiled in a 19-game losing skid, saw its chances for a homecoming upset crushed quickly. North Texas turned back an early USM threat, then administered one of the most lopsided beatings in recent NT history. The Mean Green ran 49 plays for 383 yards in the first half alone, scored 28 points in a span of the second quarter during which Southern Miss managed to run just seven offensive plays, and held USM to 13 yards rushing while building a 41-7 halftime lead.
"It was a complete start," North Texas coach Dan McCarney said. "We were playing physical, trying to take away their hope early. Overall, the effort was really good."
Among the many who had big nights for North Texas was Reggie Pegram, who made the most of a domiant performance from the offensive line to rush for a game-high 76 yards and two touchdowns and fueled the ground game, while the first-half aerial assault was led by Brelan Chancellor with 113 yards receiving and Carlos Harris with seven catches in the first two quarters.
The North Texas defense, meanwhile, feasted on the Golden Eagles, holding them to 180 yards through three quarters and 249 for the game, recording four sacks, collecting three interceptions, and forcing four fumbles and recovering two.
What They Said
"Our preparation is why we've played well the last couple of weeks."
-- Safety Marcus Trice
"We've had a fire lit under us, and every week we challenge each other. You see the confidence building."
-- Offensive lineman Mason Y'Barbo
"It's exciting. It's why you come to college football games. We've put ourselves in position for a game of this magnitude."
-- coach Dan McCarney on Thursday's game against Rice
• Quarterback Derek Thompson threw for 300 yards for the seventh time in his career, giving him the all-time lead in school history in that category. He had been tied with Steve Ramsey.
• This was the Mean Green's biggest margin of victory on the road since a 42-0 win at Drake in 1958.
• The North Texas 34-point halftime lead was the Mean Green's biggest since leading 31-0 against Middle Tennessee in 2011. It was the most points by halftime since scoring 49 against Navy in 2007.
• After thwarting an early USM scoring threat, North Texas completely dominated the first quarter, piling up 173 yards while allowing just 43 and taking a 13-0 lead.
• After going up 20-7 on a Brandin Byrd one-yard run, USM went three and out; North Texas went up 27-7 and USM went three and out; North Texas went up 34-7 and USM was intercepted by Marcus Trice on its next play; and North Texas then went up 41-7.
• The interception was Trice's second of the season, tying him for the team lead with Zac Whitfield, Will Wright and Lairamie Lee.
• Wright, however, took the team lead in picks with his third interception of the game, midway through the third quarter.
• Lee then responded with his third interception of the year to pull even with Wright.
• Reggie Pegram continued his growing contribution to the Mean Green ground game with a 43-yard first quarter, capping the opening period with a three-yard touchdown run. It was his fifth touchdown of the season, briefly tying him for the team lead.
• Byrd retook the team TD lead with a one-yard plunge midway through the second quarter for his sixth touchdown of the year and 11th of his career.
• USM had the game's first scoring opportunity after an interception set the Golden Eagles up at the North Texas 37. But the North Texas defense forced a field goal attempt that sailed wide left.
• North Texas scored the game's first points for the second time this year, this on a 46-yard pass from Derek Thompson to Brelan Chancellor.
• The Mean Green surrendered a touchdown early in the second half after USM recovered a North Texas fumble at the Mean Green two-yard line. North Texas turned the ball over three times on its first four possessions of the second half on two fumbles and an interception.
• The game turned sloppy in the second half, with the teams combining for five turnovers in the first eight possessions.
• North Texas won the coin toss to remain a perfect 8-0 in the coin toss this season. The Mean Green has deferred six times and taken the ball twice.
• Thompson threw an interception on the Mean Green's first possession of the game for the second week in a row. The Mean Green defense was able to hold Southern Miss. Without a score after the Golden Eagles missed a 35-yard field goal attempt.
• The 46-yard touchdown tied for the fourth-longest play from scrimmage this year for North Texas. Chancellor has been on the receiving end of four touchdowns this year of 40 yards or more. (Chancellor had a 52-yard reception after this in the second quarter).
• Before tonight, North Texas had not had a 7-0 lead on the road since the Florida Atlantic game of Sept. 29, 2012.
• North Texas took a 13-0 lead late in the first quarter on a 2-yard touchdown run by running back Reggie Pegram. It was the largest first-quarter lead for the Mean Green this season. North Texas had been outscored 47-31 in the first quarter this season before tonight.
• North Texas outgained Southern Miss 173-43 in total offense in the first quarter which is the most yards the Mean Green has gained in the first quarter this year.
• North Texas allowed a 59-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, which is the longest play from scrimmage against the Mean Green since a 99-yard touchdown allowed at Georgia in the fourth game of the season.
• Chancellor was on the receiving end of a 52-yard play in the second quarter became the fourth-longest play from scrimmage for the Mean Green this year, supplanting his 46-yard reception earlier in the game.
• North Texas scored on a 15-yard pass from Thompson to running back Antoinne Jimmerson in the second quarter to give the Mean Green a 27-7 lead. That was the most points scored by North Texas in the first half this season.
• North Texas outgained Southern Miss 383-144 in the first half. That was more yards for the Mean Green than it totaled in games against Ohio, Georgia and Tulane.
• The Mean Green was 5-of-5 on red zone appearances in the first half which extended its scoring streak inside the red zone to 19 straight dating back to the Ohio game.
• After scoring touchdowns on six of its eight possessions in the first half, the Mean Green offense had three turnovers and a three-and-out on its first four possessions of the second half.
• The Mean Green took a 55-14 lead in the fourth quarter which is the most points a North Texas team scored on the road since a 55-30 win at Southern Illinois in 1962.
• North Texas scored 83 points in back-to-back road games with 55 tonight and 28 last week against Louisiana Tech. That is the most in two straight road games since 1977.
North Texas returns home to face C-USA co-leader Rice on Halloween night, Thursday, Oct. 31, with a chance to become bowl eligible. Kickoff is 6:30 p.m. at Apogee Stadium.