Start Time: 2:30 PM EST, Saturday, October 31
Location: M. M. Roberts Stadium, Hattiesburg, Mississippi
TV: Fox College Sports
Streaming: Fox Sports Go
Radio: Southern Miss: here. UTEP: here.
Records: Southern Miss: 5-3. UTEP: 3-4. UTEP leads the overall series 4-3.
Live Stats: here.
Line: Southern Miss -24. Over/Under: 57.5.
Southern Miss Outlook: In case you haven't been watching, this is not the Southern Miss of the last three seasons.
The Golden Eagles are scary explosive in the run game with Ito Smith and Jalen Richard combining for 1,209 and 10 touchdowns on the season. Both have a yards per carry average over 5.5 and have the ability to take any carry to the house. If the run game decides to go in a different route, redshirt freshman Delaunte' Thornton and Michigan transfer Justice Hayes can step in and help carry the load.
So, the Golden Eagles are great running the ball, they must be bad in the passing game, right? Nope, exactly the opposite. Quarterback Nick Mullens has burst upon the scene with 2,613 yards passing, 21 touchdown passes and a 326.6 yards per game average. All of those are career highs for the three-year starter. Casey Martin, Mike Thomas, DJ Thompson, and Ito Smith all have 29 or more catches and caught a combined 16 of Mullen's touchdown passes. Overall, the Golden Eagles are averaging a gaudy 505.8 yards per game of total offense.
As the season has progressed, the defense has gotten better and better for Southern Miss. While still struggling with giving up explosive plays, the defense has gotten very good at limiting successful plays (34.8% allowed vs pass, 39.9% allowed vs run). The rush defense has finally lowered to under 175 yards per game allowed, so there is still a lot of work to be done. Overall, the Golden Eagles are giving up 369.6 yards per game.
Players to watch on the Southern Miss defense include: D'Nerius Antoine, Brian Anderson, and Dylan Bradley.
UTEP Outlook: Despite nearly everything going wrong for the Miners in 2015, bowl eligibility is still a possibility after last week's win over FAU.
The Miners have played seven games on the season. Their leading rusher on the year is Aaron Jones. He hasn't played since the second game of the season. No one has been able to fill in the shoes of Jones and it has hurt the offense tremendously. Jeremiah Laufasa and LaQuintus Dowell are the best options and have shown improvement for a running game that is averaging only 140.4 yards per game. That is despite the Miners running the ball on 53.4% of all offensive plays.
Somehow, the combination of Mack Leftwich and Ryan Metz have managed to piece together a somewhat effective passing game. The Miners will start Mack Leftwich, a player that has started in all four games he has been available. When passing, the Miners will target wide receivers Jaquan White, Autrey Golden, and tight end Hayden Plinke. The trio have seen 50.9% of all passes headed in their direction. Sophomore Tyler Batson has also worked his way up the depth chart and is making an impact.
For all of the improvement made in the passing game, the UTEP defense has been just terrible. The Miners have given up 45 or more points in four of seven games this season. The defense has the worst defensive IsoPPP in the nation, looking especially bad versus the passing game. Teams average over 300 yards per game in the air versus UTEP, taking chunks of yards at will versus a helpless Miners defense. Expect Mullens to have a field day.
Players to watch on the UTEP defense include: Alvin Jones, Nick Usher, and Jimmy Musgrave.
Prediction: The only thing that could see this game stay close is Southern Miss struggling to overcome the pressure of earning bowl eligibility. Once nerves are overcome, the scoring will start and not stop all night. Southern Miss wins big. Southern Miss 55, UTEP 17.