Southern Miss running back Jeremy Hester scoots into the endzone for an early 14-0 lead over Navy. The Midshipmen have lost three in a row for the first time since 2002. (Jonathan Newton/WASHINGTON POST)

A week removed from one of the most disheartening losses in program history, the Navy football team had the added assignment on Saturday of trying to avert its first three-game slide in nearly a decade, all without the services of its leading rusher. Considering all that went wrong in a 63-35 drubbing by Southern Mississippi, the absence of fullback Alexander Teich is among the least of the Midshipmen’s concerns.

Held out for violating team rules, the senior co-captain watched from the sideline as his teammates failed at almost every meaningful turn — and in so doing, saddled the program with its first three-game losing streak since 2002. That was the first season of the successful triple-option era for the Midshipmen, who have eight straight bowl appearances.

That streak figures to be in serious jeopardy should Navy offer more clunkers like Saturday’s game, which took place before 33,462 mostly stunned spectators at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. The Midshipmen didn’t score until 5 minutes 29 seconds remained in the first half. Meantime, the country’s fourth-ranked rushing offense compiled yardage but not touchdowns when the game remained competitive.

The defense, which three weeks ago limited then-No. 10 South Carolina to 24 points, wasn’t much better. Southern Miss. rolled up 584 yards and scored the most points against the Midshipmen since they lost to North Carolina State, 65-19, in 2002.

“It’s been a long time since we got our butts whooped like that,” Navy Coach Ken Niuatamlolo said. “It starts with me. They outcoached us. They outplayed us. That was a thorough whipping, what they gave to us today.”

Senior quarterback Kriss Proctor had a game-high 123 yards rushing on 17 carries for Navy (2-3), but most of it came in the second half when the game was out of hand. Golden Eagles senior quarterback Austin Davis, meantime, completed 21 of 23 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns and ran 12 times for 75 yards and another score.

For the second straight week, the early stages of the game were ruinous for the Midshipmen. In the first half of those games, Navy has been outscored 56-10.

Navy began by running 12 plays on the first possession, but on fourth down and 10 from the Southern Miss. 12, place kicker Jon Teague has his 29-yard field goal try blocked by nose tackle Khyri Thornton.

It was the second game in a row Teague had a kick blocked, and this time Marquese Wheaton collected the loose ball and raced untouched for a 79-yard touchdown. Just like that, Navy had to play from behind for the second week in a row. In last Saturday’s 35-34 loss to Air Force, the Midshipmen trailed by a pair of touchdowns in the first quarter but managed to force overtime.

“Obviously last week was emotionally draining, coming up short. Maybe,” Proctor said when asked if the Air Force disappointment lingered into this game. “But we’ve got to come back. We’ve got to find a way to put those games behind us.”

The outcome of this game was still well in doubt when Navy drove to the Southern Miss. 7 late in the first quarter. From there, Proctor ran up the middle and tried to reach the ball over the goal line. Officials ruled he was down, though, and replays confirmed the call, setting up second and goal from inside the 1, where Teich would have been valuable.

But Proctor ran for no gain, as did slotback Bo Snelson. On fourth down, the Midshipmen went for it. Linebacker Tim Green stopped Proctor short of the goal line to ignite a wild celebration along the Southern Miss. sideline. That stand, though, wasn’t the worst of it for the Midshipmen.

Clearly deflated, Navy soon found itself in a 14-0 deficit with 1:56 to play in the first quarter when running back Jeremy Hester scored on a three-yard carry that capped a 99-yard drive. The lead expanded to 21-0 when Southern Miss. (5-1) used 13 plays covering 75 yards on a possession that ended with a four-yard run from running back Tracy Lampley.

Navy’s triple option, which gained 334 yards rushing last week, then proved ineffective for a second consecutive series, giving up the ball after four snaps, two of which resulted in negative yardage. It was bad news for a winded Midshipmen defense, which was seemingly helpless as Southern Miss. ran the ball six straight times before Davis’s five-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Hanks made it 28-0, effectively putting the game out of reach.

“The game’s over now,” Navy senior defensive end and co-captain Jabaree Tuani said. “There’s nothing you can do or say that’s going to make anything change, so we’ve just got to keep moving forward.”