By Robert Wilson
Frank Gore Sr. holds the NFL record for most games played by a running back and ranks third in career rushing yards. But Gore, in his quarter century of playing high school, college, and pro football, never accomplished what his son did Saturday night for Southern Miss.
Frank Gore Jr. ran for a school record 329 yards – the most by any player in the history of college bowl games – on 21 carries and scored two touchdowns and threw a TD pass to lead Southern Miss to a 38-24 victory over Rice in the Lending Tree Bowl in Mobile.
Said Gore Jr.: “When my dad came on the field, I let him know I’m the best in the family.”
He definitely was Saturday night.
The 5-foot-8, 195-pound sophomore was amazing Saturday night for the Golden Eagles. He scored on runs of 64 yards and 55 yards, the last TD with 2 minutes, 57 seconds to play in the game to push him over 300 yards. Gore also threw an 18-yard TD pass to Ty Mims tied the game at 24-24 in the third quarter and ran 59 yards to set up Southern Miss’ go-ahead TD in the fourth quarter.
Gore had four runs for more than 25 yards and nine for more than 10 yards. He averaged 15.7 yards per carry.
No player has gained that many yards in a game this season. Gore was only 47 yards from getting into the Top 10 rushing games in college football history.
Gore broke the bowl mark of 317 yards set by Appalachian State’s Camerun Peoples in the 2020 Myrtle Beach Bowl against North Texas. Colleges have been playing bowl games for more than 100 years. The Rose Bowl started playing annually in 1916.
Gore broke the Southern Miss record of 304 by Sam Dejarnette against Florida State in 1982, a record that stood for 40 years. Southern Miss has had some great running backs in its rich football tradition like Damion Fletcher, Ito Smith, Derrick Nix, Sammy Winder, and Ben Garry and Dejarnette, but none topped what Gore did Saturday night.
“Frank’s a special guy,” Southern Miss coach Will Hall said. “He’s really learned how to be a leader. He’s really learned how to handle the responsibility of being Frank Gore Jr., and he has embraced that, and he’s embraced the whole deal of to whom much is given, much is required. Frank is always intense and competitive, and I’m just really proud he was able to have a performance like this on a national stage where a lot of people could see it.
“You know, everybody in life wants to get blessed, but not everybody in life wants the responsibility to being a blessing. These kids will tell you; Frank brings it every day. He has an infectious smile; it’s almost a Magic Johnson smile. He lifts others up. I’m proud of our offensive line and our tight ends. They got hats on hats tonight in the run game and made some good calls. Once Frank gets in the secondary, the first person never tackles him. He was Emmitt Smith like in that way. He has a chip on his shoulder like his short coach does.”
Gore Sr.’s best game was a 319-yard performance for Coral Gables High, 195 yards at Miami and 212 yards in the NFL.
Gore Sr., who was listed 5-9 and 212 pounds while playing in the NFL, played 16 NFL seasons (2005-2020), 10 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, Indianapolis Colts for three seasons and Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets for one season each. Gore gained 16,000 yards – only Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton gained more – and scored 81 TDs. He played running back in an NFL record 241 yards in his 16 seasons and led the Jets in rushing in his final season at age 37.
Gore played college football at Miami and was a third-round pick by the 49ers in the 2005 NFL Draft. He became the franchise’s rushing yards leader and received five Pro Bowl selections. Gore led the National Football Conference in rushing yards in 2006 and led the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012. He was named to the NFL’s 2010s All-Decade Team in 2020.
But his son was the star Saturday night. And Gore Jr. shared his success with his teammates.
“This is not for myself, but I’m happy for my teammates,” Gore said. “We have been through a lot. To be honest, who knew we would be here. We fought the last week of the season to get to six wins to be here. And once we were here, I told myself I can’t let them down. I had to win this for them. For the previous two years, the program never had had success, so I felt like this showed that the grass is actually greener and it’s going to drive our young guys to be hungrier.”
This was the first bowl win for Southern Miss since 2016. Southern Miss finished 3-7 in 2020 under three head coaches in the same year (head coach Jay Hopson resigned after one game, interim coach Scotty Walden left midseason to take the Austin Peay head coaching job and and interim coach Tim Billings finished the season) and 3-9 last season, Hall’s first year as Southern Miss head coach after being a coordinator at Tulane.
“I’m extremely proud of my teammates,” Gore said. “Before the game, I was thinking some of my guys won’t ever play football again. They were up at 6 o’clock like me and working just as hard as me. I wanted to give them the benefit of their work. Once we went down, I thought about that and I told myself, I couldn’t let my guys down and I would have to pull it through. We preach to our o-line to keep working and stay focused because they are the driver of the offense. Our o-line dominated the line of scrimmage today.”
Gore finished the season with 1,382 rushing yards, sixth highest in Southern Miss history, and 13th highest in the nation this season. Damion Fletcher had a school record 1,586 yards in 2007. Gore now has 2,891 career yards, seventh in school history. Fletcher had a school-record 5,302 career yards from 2006-2009.
Gore has come a long way since last season. It was the third consecutive season he has led the Golden Eagles in rushing yards, gained 708 in his first year in Hattiesburg and 801 last season in his second freshman season due to covid.
“I love Frank and how much he has grown,” Hall said. “He couldn’t have done what he did tonight last year. Frank will tell you that. He made the choice to change the way he eats, the way he trains, the way he works. Frank changed his body fat content. He gained a little bit of weight and still got faster. Frank was able to endure the pounding in the season, which he used to couldn’t do, in his first two years here. When you work hard sometimes, people get frustrated because you don’t see results instantly. It’s an instant world. We have Instagram and Twitter; everyone wants to be told they are doing right now. When you choose to make tough changes in your offseason workouts, you don’t reap the rewards of that until way down the road. Well, Frank reaped it this year and tonight. There was a lot into getting it done.”
I grind and put in the work day in and day out,” Gore said. “I watch my growth and make sure I’m doing the little things to be successful. I was in the weight room a lot more, I was running a lot more, not necessarily sprinting, just running so I can have more endurance and that led to today. At this point in the season, everybody’s body has broken down, but I was able to stand strong.
“Thank you for my o-line, they opened a lot of big holes that I went through untouched, and the next person will probably miss and that will lead to a big play. Once we got down, the stats went out the door and I was focused on getting the trophy and helping my teammates such as (wide receiver) Jason Brownlee. Jason had a chance to hit the transfer portal, but our relationship was one of the reasons he stayed. I owed it to him tonight. They doubled him tonight and I gave them what they were looking for.”
Gore Jr. wasn’t highly recruited coming out of Killan High in Miami. He wasn’t even ranked in the Top 100 players in Florida and was the No. 63 ranked running back in the country by 247 Sports. Gore Jr. was offered by Kentucky and verbally committed to Florida Atlantic. But Gore Jr. decommitted from Florida Atlantic after Lane Kiffin left Florida Atlantic to take the job at Ole Miss in December 2019. Florida Atlantic’s loss became Southern Miss’ gain when Gore Jr. signed with the Golden Eagles that December.
“I could relate to the vibe I got when I came here,” Gore said. “I wanted to get away from my hometown and just be able to focus on football and not everything else. The reason I’m still here is because of my teammates and the love for each other and the love I have for my coaches. The love they have for me and the ability they have to push me and give me a bigger picture that I could accomplish and a bigger dream that I could chase.”
Gore’s dream came true Saturday night, setting an all-time college bowl rushing record and a school rushing record, but more importantly giving Southern Miss its seventh win of the season and first winning season since 2019.