LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – Nick Mullens ran for two 1-yard touchdowns – including the go-ahead score late in the third quarter – and passed for two TDs as Southern Mississippi scored 34 unanswered points to upset Kentucky 44-35 in its season opener on Saturday night.
Kentucky appeared in control with a 35-10 second quarter lead as Drew Barker threw TD passes of 72, 43, 9 and 53 yards on drives totaling 13 plays. Jojo Kemp’s 7-yard TD run seemed to provide a cushion that the Wildcats’ defense complemented with three interceptions of Mullens.
Neither Mullens nor the Golden Eagles quarterback panicked as he answered Kentucky’s final score with a 71-yard TD pass to Isaiah Jones with 26 seconds left before halftime. Mullens then sandwiched 1-yard TD runs around an 18-yard scoring pass to Julian Allen, followed by two Parker Schaunfield field goals.
Mullens finished 18 of 28 passing for 258 yards to help Jay Hopson win his debut as Golden Eagles coach.
SOUTHERN MISS: The Golden Eagles stuck with the game despite being outscored 35-3 in the first half, rebounding with the duo of Mullens and Ito Smith (36 carries, 173 yards, 1 TD). Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson got the final word against his former team as Southern Miss outgained Kentucky 554-443 and dominated the final 32 minutes. The victory ended a 13-game losing streak to Southeastern Conference schools.
KENTUCKY: The Wildcats still have time to reach the six-win plateau for bowl eligibility. But they blew a huge lead and opportunity in a game they had to win toward that end, and an 0-2 start seems possible with a trip to No. 25 Florida looming. Kentucky blew a 21-point lead in a 38-24 loss to Louisville in last season’s finale.
SOUTHERN MISS: The Golden Eagles aim to follow up their big win when they host FCS Savannah State next weekend.
KENTUCKY: The Wildcats visit No. 25 Florida next Saturday in hopes of ending a 29-game losing streak to the Gators – not to mention, annual media questions about it. Kentucky has come close the past two years and aims to finally seal the deal in the nationally televised game at The Swamp.
(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)