NEW ORLEANS (Ticker) -- Just 10 days after getting burned by the country's No. 2 rusher, Southern Mississippi stuffed the nation's leader.
The Golden Eagles limited North Texas freshman Jamario Thomas to 92 yards - just two in the second half - en route to an easy 31-10 triumph over the Mean Green in the Wyndham New Orleans Bowl, the first of 28 postseason games this season.
Dustin Almond completed 16-of-30 passes for 247 yards and both ran and threw for a score for Southern Miss (7-5), which concluded its regular season with a 26-16 home loss to California on December 4 in which J.J. Arrington ran for 261 yards for the Golden Bears.
In this one, Thomas - who had averaged a national-best 189.89 rushing yards this season - gained 90 yards on 18 carries in the first half, which ended with Southern Miss leading 17-3. But Thomas was stymied after the break as the Golden Eagles pulled away, and he came up 63 yards shy of surpassing Ron Dayne's NCAA freshman rushing record.
"(Southern Miss) had a tough defense," said Thomas, who had five consecutive games of 200 yards rushing before sitting out the regular-season finale because of a sore hamstring. "It was hard to get started."
"The defense played great," said Southern Miss linebacker Michael Boley, who was voted the game's MVP after recording four tackles for losses, including two sacks, and returning an interception 62 yards for a touchdown. "We stepped up to the challenge of a big-time back. We hadn't fared too well against big-time backs all year."
Almond opened the scoring by finding tight end Otho Graves for a 37-yard touchdown pass four minutes into the contest. Just under five minutes later, he connected on a 48-yard pass to Tavarres Williams to the 3, then ran it in from a yard out two plays later to double the advantage.
"Offensively, we got off to a fast start and looked impressive," said Jeff Bower, who has coached Southern Miss to four of its six bowl victories and an 11th consecutive winning season. "This was a real good performance. These guys know how to win."
Southern Miss, which finished tied for second in Conference USA, opened a 24-3 cushion just over two minutes into the fourth quarter when Boley intercepted a pass by Scott Hall and ran it back for his first touchdown since 2002. Sherron Moore capped the team's scoring with a one-yard run with 1:26 to play, two plays after the Eagles recovered a fumble at the North Texas 3.
"Somebody was saying on the field before the game that Boley didn't look that big," North Texas coach Darrell Dickey said. "But boy, he looked big to us. He's an outstanding player. (Southern Miss) has a lot of them."
Hall, who was 15-of-30 for 134 yards with two interceptions and five sacks, found Johnny Quinn for an 11-yard TD with one second remaining for the Sun Belt Conference champion Mean Green (7-5), who have appeared in all four New Orleans Bowls but have won only once.
The Golden Eagles won easily even though kicker Darren McCaleb made only one of his four field-goal attempts after going 15-of-15 during the regular season. The one he made, however, was a 45-yarder, the longest in Southern Miss bowl history.
Both teams committed three turnovers, but Southern Miss outgained North Texas, 403-212.