Southern Miss (3-5) at Texas-El Paso (4-3) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Sun Bowl Stadium (51,500) -- El Paso, Texas. Television: FCS. Home Record: Southern Miss 2-2, UTEP 2-1. Away Record: Southern Miss 1-3, UTEP 2-2. Neutral Record: Southern Miss 0-0, UTEP 0-0. Conference Record: Southern Miss 1-3, UTEP 2-1. Series Record: Series is tied, 3-3.
GAME NOTES: Having won two games in a row for the first time all season, the Texas-El Paso Miners will shoot for their third consecutive victory as they host the Southern Miss Golden Eagles in a Conference USA clash at Sun Bowl Stadium.
Southern Miss has dropped three of its last four contests, including its most recent matchup with Louisiana Tech, 31-20. The Golden Eagles have already won three times as many games as last season (they finished 1-11), but with a 1-3 mark in conference with games against UTEP, Marshall and UAB all coming up, the chances of a postseason berth are slim.
UTEP started the season with a win, and through three games the Miners were 2-1. But two straight losses derailed the Miners a bit, until they won back- to-back games headed into this weekend's matchup. UTEP easily took down in- state rival UTSA last weekend, shutting out the Roadrunners 34-0.
The all-time series between the Conference USA foes is all knotted up at 3-3. The last time these teams met was back in 2012, Autrey Golden returned a late- game kickoff 98 yards to give UTEP the lead, which the team clung to in a 34-33 edging.
Southern Miss took the lead in last weekend's contest with an early touchdown against Louisiana Tech, but the Bulldogs made sure the Golden Eagles' advantage wouldn't last long. The second half belonged to Louisiana Tech, and the Golden Eagles were shut down in the double-digit defeat. Southern Miss had a beyond dismal day rushing the football. In the contest, the Eagles struggled to minus-31 rushing yards against the Bulldogs' defense.
George Payne led the team with 15 yards and a touchdown on the ground, but quarterback Cole Weeks was tagged with minus-31 yards. The Eagles have struggled to run the ball effectively all season long. Averaging 89.5 rushing ypg, Southern Miss has scored just six times on the ground in eight contests, and is averaging just three yards per carry.
But the passing game wasn't stagnant in the loss to the Bulldogs. Weeks threw for 338 yards and a touchdown in the loss, but also tossed a pair of interceptions. The Eagles lost regular starter Nick Mullens to a foot injury in the first series of the game, Coach Todd Monken said Mullens is listed as day- to-day, and hopes he can play this weekend against UTEP. Mullens has 10 touchdown passes and 1,950 yards passing this season, but has thrown eight interceptions.
Like several other teams in Conference USA this season, defense has been a key issue for the Golden Eagles. Southern Miss has allowed opponents to score more than 30 points in a game five times this year, and hasn't kept a challenger from scoring at least 20 points in a game at any point. The team is averaging 33.8 ppg surrendered and 471.4 total yards of offense per outing.
Only three players on the Southern Miss roster have recorded interceptions this season, and all three of them have two apiece. Brian Anderson leads the team with 54 tackles on the season, and he has played in only seven games. Dasman McCullum has team highs in tackles for loss (10.5) and in sacks (4.5). Overall, the team needs to sure up leaky areas on defense that include a 46 percent third-down success rate for opponents, and a 201.8 rushing ypg allowed average.
UTEP may as well have had an extra week of practice last Saturday. The Roadrunners didn't even show up to play in San Antonio, which meant the Miners got an easy Conference USA victory. UTEP's offense was strong, and its defense was stronger in the win. Quarterback Jameill Showers completed 12-of-18 passing for 191 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and added 37 yards on the ground.
It was almost an off game for UTEP's rushing offense, which averages 222.1 rushing ypg this season. Aaron Jones led the team in the win with 86 yards and a touchdown, while also hauling in a scoring reception. Jones has been the go- to guy in the ground attack this season, averaging 121.1 rushing ypg with eight touchdowns in seven games played. Jones also leads the team in receiving with 19 catches for 133 yards and two more touchdowns. Jones and Showers are the two players the Golden Eagles must stop if they want to slow the offense.
Showers has the UTEP offense averaging a respectable 29.4 ppg, but the passing game has become somewhat of an afterthought to the running attack. The Miners are averaging 149.3 passing ypg this season - entirely from Showers, who has 10 touchdown passes and just over 1,000 yards through the air.
Early in the season, the Miners struggled to contain any opponent. The team is still averaging 32.3 ppg allowed to opponents, even after shutting out UTSA last weekend. But if UTEP can replicate its effort from last Saturday going forward, the Miners will be a force in Conference USA the rest of the way. The team held UTSA to a mere two first downs and 70 total offensive yards in the contest, owning the ball for nearly 20 minutes more than the Roadrunners.
Wesley Miller and Anthony Puente each have recorded a team-high 37 tackles this season, which isn't much in seven games. That's an average of just over five tackles per game. In those seven games, the team has notched a combined total of eight sacks, five interceptions and six fumble recoveries. Not great numbers for a team looking to turn the corner. Alvin Jones leads the team with 5.5 tackles for loss, while LaQuintus Dowell has a team-high two fumble recoveries.
If Mullens can play this weekend, it will be a huge boost for the Golden Eagles. But the hot play of UTEP certainly can't be ignored, although the team's defense needs to step up in several statistical departments. It wasn't necessary for the Miners to do so last weekend against a dismal UTSA team, but moving forward they'll need some more help. As long as Showers and Jones can be effective, the Miners will continue their hot streak. At home, give it one more week.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texas-El Paso 27, Southern Miss 20Game Date and Time
Saturday, November 1, 8 p.m. (ET)