Southern Mississippi couldn't get its offense going today. The defense didn't have that problem.

The Golden Eagles scored 10 points off three turnovers and shut down Colorado State in the second half to beat the Rams, 23-17, and win the Liberty Bowl for the second time in three years.

Southern Miss (9-3) led 20-17 at halftime and managed to add a 25-yard field goal by Brant Hanna midway through the third quarter. The defense made it stand up despite spending much of the half on the field against the Rams (8-4).

"I'm officially declaring this the best defense ever in Southern Miss history," Coach Jeff Bower said after the unit held Colorado State scoreless in the second half despite spending nearly 19 minutes on the field.

Colorado State had one last chance to win in the final two minutes, with two downs from the Southern Miss 24. Matt Newton threw incomplete on third down, and Southern Miss safety Leo Barnes knocked away a fourth-and-three pass with 1 minute 15 seconds to play.

The Rams entered the game as one of the hottest teams in the country, winning five straight to earn a share of the Mountain West Conference title. But the Golden Eagles shut down Colorado State's Kevin McDougal, who averaged 116 yards a game this season. He got only 59 in the game, just 17 in the second half.

"We haven't played teams that could bat down passes like them," Colorado State wide receiver Dallas Davis said. "It seemed like every time I turned around for the ball, it was knocked down."

Adalius Thomas led Southern Miss with three sacks, and the special teams also got into the act by blocking a punt and recovering it for a touchdown.

Most of the action took place in a wild first half that included the first two punts getting blocked, a blocked extra point, three turnovers and two touchdowns on fourth down. Southern Miss led 20-17 at halftime despite not scoring on offense until 26 seconds left in the half.

Southern Miss looked as if it would blow the Rams out in the opening minutes, when Chad Williams picked up Newton's fumble on Colorado State's fourth play of the game and ran in five yards for a touchdown. Then Roy Magee intercepted Newton's pass three plays later.

John Floyd blocked Deone Horinek's punt with 4:35 left in the quarter, putting Southern Miss up 13-3.

CAPTION: Southern Mississippi's T.J. Slaughter (34) and Colorado State's Doug Heald (44) chase down a blocked punt, one of three blocked kicks in the first half.