BREAKOUT PLAYER OF THE WEEK
At one point Saturday night, first-year Southern Miss wide receiver Allenzae Staggers (above) averaged a staggering 83 yards on three catches against Rice.
All three went for touchdowns covering 75, 81 and 93 yards. And all the big plays made the difference in a 44-28 victory that improved USM's record to 4-1 overall and 2-0 in Conference USA.
"I think 65 of their plays went for a total of 317 yards," Rice head coach David Bailiff said, "and five of them went for 380 yards."
USM senior quarterback Nick Mullens, an ASN FBS #GameChanger nominee, threw for a school-record 591 yards on 25-of-36 passing. That's no small feat at a school that produced Hall of Famer Brett Favre, Reggie Collier and current NFL quarterback Austin Davis.
Five completions went for 54 yards or more, including the 3 TDs to Staggers. Julian Allen also topped 100 yards receiving with 101 on 3 catches.
"He is going to put the ball where he has to put it," Golden Eagles head coach Jay Hopson said of Mullens. "He's that type of quarterback and it's always great to have a quarterback at that caliber ... he's a special quarterback."
Staggers also credited Mullens: "He pushes me every day in practice, and tonight he just trusted me."
But Staggers, who had 11 catches for 178 yards this season before Saturday's game, was the big story. The junior transfer from East Mississippi Community College finished with a school-record 292 yards on 6 catches against Rice.
Thr NCAA record is 450 yards by Louisiana Tech's Troy Edwards against Nebraska in 1998. Edwards averaged 21.4 yards on 21 receptions; Staggers averaged 48.7 yards.
"Allenzae is a talented athlete," Hopson said. "He got in some one-on-one situations and he made them pay."
"He's not scared of anybody," Mullens added. "To have a guy like that out there and making plays is awesome to see."
Staggers gives USM's awesome offense another big-play weapon. Mullens is second in C-USA passing yards (1,504), running back Ito Smith is second in C-USA rushing yards (617) and Staggers is now fourth in C-USA receiving yards (470) and second in the conference with 5 TD catches.
"Next week I'll try to beat my own record," Staggers said. "But I wasn't focused on how many yards I had. I just wanted my team to go out there and keep scoring."
Mullens expressed a similar attitude about his record.
"After the third touchdown to Stag he asked if I knew where I was at (statistically) and I said, 'No, it doesn't matter,'" Mullens said. "It's all about the team. We won. We're 2-0 in the conference."
Southern Miss goes for 3-0 in the conference Saturday on ASN against UTSA.
LET'S GIVE THEM ALL A HAND
Staggers was the best of a big weekend for receivers — 25 from ASN's family of FBS schools topped 100 yards, including four on ASN.
- Northern Illinois senior Kenny Golladay had a career-high 13 catches and 184 yards with 2 TDs in a 31-24 victory against Ball State in a MAC opener. It was his sixth career 100-yard game. Golladay's quarterback, senior Anthony Maddie, is another of this week's ASN FBS #GameChanger nominees.
- Tulane sophomore Terren Encalade had 7 catches for 125 yards and a TD as the Green Wave rallied for a 31-24 victory against UMass. The Green Wave scored 24 unanswered points, including Encalade's 36-yard TD reception from Glen Cuiellette.
- Meanwhile, UTEP freshman Eddie Sinegal made 6 catches for 102 yards.
Louisiana Tech senior Trent Taylor, the No. 3 receiver in FBS with 753 yards, made 10 catches for 121 yards and a TD in a 28-7 C-USA victory against UTEP. He seems to save his best for ASN — 56 catches for 609 yards and 5 TDs in LA Tech's six appearances on ASN. The Bulldogs play again on ASN Oct. 15 against UMass.
Marshall's Michael Clark came up big against Pitt with 4 catches for 147 yards and a TD. He and the Thundering Herd face North Texas and another member of the weekend's 100-yard club Saturday on ASN.
UNT's Terian Goree made 9 catches for 100 yards in a 30-13 loss to Middle Tennessee.
WESTERN MICHIGAN FIRSTS
» Speaking of receivers ...
Western Michigan's Corey Davis set the MAC career receiving record in a 49-10 victory against Central Michigan in their Battle for the Cannon.
Davis has 4,252 yards, 11th in FBS history and surpassing Jordan White's 4,187 yards for Western Michigan from 2006-11.
Davis also tied former WMU and NFL star Greg Jennings for the school record with 39 career TD receptions.
It all earned Davis MAC West Player of the Week honors.
» Speaking of Western Michigan ...
Why aren't more people talking about the Broncos?
They are 5-0 for the first time since 1994 and have won 12 of their past 14 games.
They received their first ranking in program history — No. 25 in the USA Today Amway Coaches Poll — and missed the Associated Press Top 25 by nine points.
Led by Davis, quarterback Zach Terrell and running backs Jamauri Bogan and Jarvion Franklin, they are averaging 459.6 yards and 44.8 points per game. Meanwhile, their defense is allowing only 319.2 yards and 18.6 points per game. Both units lead the MAC.
They have also beaten two Power 5 opponents for the first time in one season, albeit Illinois and Northwestern. But you can only beat who you play, and the Broncos have beaten them all.
"We have something special on this team," said Broncos linebacker Keion Adams, "and every guy that we have on this team contributes in a role."
Head coach P.J. Fleck has challenged his team to "Row the Boat." The Broncos could row their way into unchartered territory — the Group of 5's spot in a New Year's Six bowl game.
» Speaking of the Group of 5 ...
Houston remained No. 1 in our G-5 Top 5 but San Diego State dropped out after a 42-24 upset loss to South Alabama. Western Michigan moved up to No. 3:
1. Houston (5-0)
Next: Saturday at Navy
2. Boise State (4-0)
Next: Friday at New Mexico
3. Western Michigan (5-0)
Next: Saturday vs. Northern Illinois
4. Air Force (4-0)
Next: Saturday at Wyoming
5. South Florida
Next: Saturday vs. East Carolina
» Meanwhile, five schools from the ASN family remain in the top seven of the latest STATS FCS Top 25:
2. Sam Houston State
Next: Saturday at Incarnate Word
3. Jacksonville State (3-1)
Next: Saturday vs. Tennessee Tech
5. Chattanooga (5-0)
Next: Saturday vs. Mercer
6. Richmond (4-1)
Next: Saturday at Albany
7. James Madison (4-1)
Next: Saturday vs. William & Mary
North Dakota State remained No. 1 and Eastern Washington stayed at No. 4. Charleston Southern (8) and The Citadel (9) also cracked the Top 10.
Photos courtesy Southern Miss Athletics (above) and Western Michigan Athletics (middle)