Quez Watkins, 16, is stopped after a pass reception by Jackson State defensive back Tonea Alex. Watkins scored four touchdowns to lead USM to a 55-7 victory at Hattiesburg.

HATTIESBURG — Jack Abraham doesn’t have Brett Favre’s Superman-ish arm. Abraham will never remind you of the graceful Reggie Collier, an earlier Southern Miss quarterback legend, as a runner.

But Abraham, in his first USM start, showed a lot of what made two other more recent Southern quarterbacks so successful here. Those would be Austin Davis and Nick Mullens, who both make a living these days in the NFL.

Rick Cleveland

In his first start – a 55-7 victory over overmatched Jackson State – Abraham was resourceful, accurate and in total command of the offense. Those were the traits that made Davis and Mullens – and USM radio analyst Lee Roberts before them – so successful and helped the Golden Eagles win so many games.

In two and a half quarters, Abraham completed 21 of 27 passes for 242 yards and four touchdowns – with no interceptions. He completed 12 of his first 13 passes and the one incompletion was an on-target ball that was dropped. He was relieved in the third quarter with USM leading 48-0 and many of the announced crowd of 29,176 already starting to file out on this damp night.

Jackson State fans during Jackson State’s 55-7 loss to USM Saturday night

His USM debut will surprise few who watched Abraham play at Oxford High School where he led his team to three straight state championship games and threw for 57 touchdowns – with only six interceptions – as a senior.

Wait, you say, he played at Oxford in the shadows of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium – with those numbers – and he now plays at Southern Miss?

Southern Mississippi quarterback Jack Abraham passes the ball during college football practice at Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg Aug. 15, 2018.

Well, there’s a story there. Abraham stands 6-feet tall. Back then, he weighed 185 pounds. SEC schools weren’t beating down his door. They weren’t even showing up. Tulane offered, and he committed – but then Tulane had a coaching change. Louisiana Tech lost a quarterback commitment and offered that scholarship to Abraham. He accepted. After Jay Hopson got the USM job, he tried to recruit Abraham, but Abraham honored his commitment to Tech.

He red-shirted as a freshman there, felt he needed a change of scenery and went to Northwest Community College where he led the Rangers to a state championship matchup with much-feared East Mississippi. Abraham put up 66 points in the championship game. East Mississippi scored one more.

And still, USM wasn’t offering a scholarship. Then Tate Whatley, a prized high school recruit, suffered a knee injury. So Hopson and staff went after him again and this time he accepted. He has three years of eligibility.

So far, so good.

“Sometimes it’s funny how it works out,” Hopson said.

USM fans had plenty to cheer about during the Eagles’ 55-7 victory over Jackson State Saturday night.

And sometimes, it’s rewarding.

Abraham was probably a long-shot to start coming into this season. Kwadra Griggs and Keon Howard, who started all USM’s games last year, were returning. But Howard left the program – he’s now at Tulane – and Griggs was dismissed. Abraham won the job. And Saturday night, he showed why. He has a quick release and his short and intermediate passes are like darts, often thrown with bullseye accuracy.

That’s the good news where USM is concerned – well, that and a really speedy and salty defense. The bad? USM never really ran the ball consistently when the starters from both teams were in the game. Any quarterback – even those named Favre and Collier – throw better when balanced with an effective running game. The Golden Eagles will need to run it better when the competition steps up.

Freshman running back Trivenskey Mosley showed some speed and moves off the bench. Steven Anderson, a 242-pound sophomore, showed some power. The Eagles wound up with 202 yards on the ground, 160 of that in the second half.

Abraham was blessed with solid protection and with impressive receivers, most notably sophomore Quez Watkins, who caught eight passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns. Watkins, often a blur, also returned a punt 81 yards for a score. The guy can fly. He was limping at game’s end, but he and Hopson say he will be fine.

As for Abraham, who plans to be a dentist like his father and his grandfather, he couldn’t stop smiling afterward.

“It feels awesome,” he said. “It’s been a long, long time coming. This is what I’ve dreamed about.”

Jackson State? Hard to tell. The Tigers were overmatched in strength and speed.

“They’ll be a good team,” Hopson said. “That’s what I told Tony (Hughes) … They will win some games.”

Jackson State’s Sonic Boom received a standing ovation after its performance at Southern Miss Saturday night.

Although one-sided, Saturday night’s affair showed why these in-state rivalries are unique. USM fans gave the Jackson State Sonic Boom band a standing ovation after a stirring halftime show. JSU and USM players embraced one another afterward. There were hugs and handshakes all around and several former high school teammates, now playing on different teams, posed together for photo. And it was a nice crowd after a stormy day and under threatening skies.

This was the third time they’ve played one another over 31 years. Seems like they probably should do it more often.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.