Southern Mississippi’s talented football team has earned a reputation for being a slow starter. Saturday’s game with UTEP seemed to be a change to that pattern as the Golden Eagles only needed a little over five minutes to notch a field goal and an early 3-0 lead.
But, less than four minutes later, UTEP’s league-leading ball carrier Aaron Jones broke free for a 68-yard touchdown run to give the Miners a 7-0 lead. Unfortunately, those were the last points UTEP scored while Southern Miss broke away for 31 straight and a 34-7 win in El Paso.
Ito Smith led the way for the Golden Eagles as he kept alive his string of 100 yard games by accumulating 108 on 16 carries.
Nick Mullens bounced back from six interceptions in his first 10 quarters by passing 16-27 for 176 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions.
USM’s first quarter field goal drive began with a 15 yard pass from Mullens to Korey Robertson followed by a 13 yard blast by powerful running back George Payne to get the ball to midfield. Mullens hit Julian Allen for 15 yards and Allenzae Staggers for another 23 before the drive stalled at the UTEP 16 yard line and Parker Shaunfield connected on a 34 yard field goal.
The teams traded punts and with a first down at its own seven yard line, UTEP went to Jones in a power attack. Jones blasted his way for 25 yards and less than a minute later, he sprinted through USM’s defense for 68 yards and a 7-3 UTEP lead.
Each team failed twice to complete drives until Southern Mississippi used six plays and a Mullens-to-D.J. Thompson pass for six yards and a touchdown with 6:39 remaining in the first half.
UTEP failed to move the ball on its next possession, but Southern Miss had no problem as Mullens hit Smith for a 28 yard score to put the Golden Eagles up 17-7.
Less than a minute later, Curtis Mikell intercepted UTEP quarterback Zack Greenlee and five plays after that, Mullens found Staggers in the end zone for a 24-7 Southern Miss lead.
UTEP’s second half offense became a coming of weak line play, careless turnovers, and mental errors, all of it adding up to two punts, two turnovers, one-for-eleven on third downs, zero-for-three on fourth downs, and no points.
Meanwhile, Southern Mississippi used a methodical and balanced attack to add one more touchdown and one more field goal.
UTEP’s defense held the Golden Eagles to 378 total yards, but the Miners’ offense could only manage just 258.
UTEP’s Jones led all ball carriers with 127 yards on 16 carries.
As expected, UTEP gave sophomore Ryan Metz significant playing time at quarterback after Greenlee failed to move the team and had two interceptions. Both quarterbacks were 7-14 passing and neither exceeded 65 yards.
UTEP is now 1-3 and will play at Louisiana Tech (1-3) which lost today at Middle Tennessee, 38-34.
Southern Mississippi (3-1) will be at home to play Rice which is 0-4 after losing today to North Texas, 42-35.