USM falls to Liberty in first game in three weeks

In their first game in three weeks, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles fell to the Liberty Flames by a score of 56-35.

Just hours before the game, it was released that Southern Miss quarterback Jack Abraham did not make the trip to Lynchburg, although no reason was given for the absence of the All-Conference USA signal-caller.

The Golden Eagles managed to get on the scoreboard first when Abraham’s replacement, Tate Whatley, ran it in for a 10-yard touchdown to cap off a seven-play, 75-yard drive.

The Flames, led by former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze, responded to the opening drive score with 35 unanswered points before going into the locker room for halftime with a four-possession lead.

Southern Miss looked like a completely different team in the third quarter, scoring three touchdowns in a row to pull the game within one possession, however, any hopes of a comeback were soon put to rest as Liberty’s Malik Willis continued to show everybody why he should be considered one of the nation’s top quarterbacks.

The Auburn transfer finished the day with 447 yards and a program-record seven touchdowns.

Regarding the comeback effort that fell short, interim head coach Tim Billings said the main issue was trying to keep up with a team as athletic as Liberty (6-0) after not playing a game since October 3.

“The thing that I saw is you can practice, but we hadn’t played in three weeks,” Billings explained. “It looked like we hadn’t played in three weeks. You can’t simulate that (tackling) in practice, especially with a team that’s as athletic as that football team at the skill positions.”

Billings, who served as an acting head coach for the first time since he was at Southeast Missouri State in 2005, also gave props to Whatley for a more than respectable performance (240 total yards and five touchdowns) in his first start since 2018.

“Offensively, Tate Whatley played really, really well,” he said. “He really hadn’t played in a game in three years. He came in and did a good job for us.”

Next up for the Golden Eagles (1-4) will be a Halloween matchup versus Rice (0-1).