The Miners (4-1, 1-0 C-USA) will enter Saturday's road C-USA opener against Southern Miss (1-4, 0-1), vying for a 5-1 start for the first time in 11 years.

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Ruben Ramirez/UTEP Athletics
Ruben Ramirez/UTEP Athletics

Series preview: Although Southern Miss has struggled this season thus far, they have pretty much dominated UTEP in recent outings, as they’ve beaten the Miners five consecutive times. The Golden Eagles lead the all-time series 8-4, including a 31-13 win in 2019.  

1. UTEP starts the year 4-1 for the first time since the 2010 season. If they win Saturday, they will have matched their best start since 2010 when they opened the season 5-1 with the likes of head coach Mike Price and quarterback Trevor Vittatoe. 

2. The Miners haven’t beaten Southern Miss in Hattiesburg since the 2012 season. Yeah, it’s been a while.  

3. They are 2-14 in C-USA road openers, looking for their first win on the road in a league opener since 2008.  

4. They have won only one conference road game under the Dana Dimel regime (Rice, 2018) 

5. Dimel is now 9-28 in his fourth season with the Miners, while Southern Miss’ Will Hall has started off sluggish in his first season at 1-4, including three consecutive losses.  

Ruben Ramirez/UTEP Athletics.
Ruben Ramirez/UTEP Athletics.

UTEP offense: The Miners are much improved offensively from year’s past and continue to flex their balanced attack. Even though they favor the run game in their play distribution, the improvement from sophomore quarterback Gavin Hardison has been key for this squad.  

6. UTEP ranks tied for 14th for red zone offense in FBS, having scored in 18-of-19 red zone attempts (.947 percent). Last year, UTEP was No. 103 in FBS for red zone offense.  

7. QB Hardison is second in C-USA and second in FBS for yards per completion (17.5). His passing efficiency (158.0) is third-best in the league as well. The sophomore has completed 58.0% of his passes for 1,139 yards and eight touchdowns, with five interceptions and six sacks.

8. WR Jacob Cowing is first in C-USA, fifth in FBS for receiving yards (585). He averages 24.4 yards per catch (2nd in C-USA, 3rd in FBS) and he also averages 117.0 yards per contest (2nd in C-USA, sixth in FBS).  

9. Cowing’s nine 100-yard career games is only four behind the program’s all-time leader in Chuck Hughes (1964-66).  

10. WR Justin Garrett has at least two catches in 20 straight games. The senior has 18 catches for 305 yards this season and ranks 13th in C-USA for receiving yards per game (61.0).  

11. The run game has been a little slow-moving recently. They’ve balanced the ground game with Deion Hankins, Ronald Awatt and Rey Flores recently, due to an injury Quardraiz Wadley has been dealing with recently. The run game hasn’t produced a 100-yard rusher since the Bethune-Cookman game.  

12. If Hankins scores a touchdown against Southern Miss, he will have seven straight games where he scored a touchdown dating back to the 2020. That’s the longest streak since Aaron Jones scored in seven consecutive games to end the 2016 season.  

13. UTEP’s offensive line ranks tied for 1st in C-USA, 15th in the nation for fewest sacks allowed per game (1.2).  

14. Time of possession is Dimel’s bread and butter. The team is first in the league, ninth in the country for time of possession (33:27).  

15. One area the offense needs to improve on is third down conversions. They are 24-of-70 (34%) on third down this season offensively.  

Ruben Ramirez/UTEP Athletics.
Ruben Ramirez/UTEP Athletics.

Miner defense: UTEP’s defense is the highlight of the recent weeks. They shut out New Mexico in the second half to rally back and win 20-13. Their defense also came up with three late stops against Old Dominion to secure the win, 28-21.  

16. The defense ranks 3rd in C-USA for scoring defense (23.8). They’ve allowed 28 or fewer points in every game except the 54 points they gave up to Boise State.  

17. They rank 2nd in C-USA and 26th in the nation for third down defense and 3rd in the conference for rush defense (108.8).  

18. The most notable mark: UTEP’s defense is ranked 31st in the country for total defense.  

19. Opposing quarterbacks complete only 48.1% of their pass attempts (3rd in FBS)  

20. Safety Dy’vonne Inyang is fresh off a two-turnover game against Old Dominion, where he forced a fumble and stole an interception late in the game. That’s the first time a Miner defender had a pair of takeaways since Dashone Smith had two interceptions against NMSU in 2013.  

21. The defense is 5th in C-USA for sacks (11.0). Last year, they totaled 13 sacks in eight games and in 2019 they finished with 12. Pass rusher Praise Amaewhule leads the squad with 3.0 sacks.  

22. Amaewhule has emerged in two straight outings. Against New Mexico, he finished with a whopping seven quarterback hurries, which was the most by a Miner since 2000 (Menson Holloway).  

23. Linebackers Tyrice Knight (33) and Breon Hayward (32) lead the squad in total tackles. Both linebackers have a combined five tackles for losses on the year.  

24. DT Keenan Stewart has an 84.7 Pro Football Focus defensive grade, which is 17th among defensive interior lineman.  

25. Opponents are averaging 310 yards per game, including 201 passing yards.  

Southern Miss v Alabama
Getty Images

Southern Miss Look-In: The Golden Eagles have struggled mightily to start the season at 1-4, (0-1 C-USA) under first-year head coach Will Hall. They played a competitive game against Rice and they are finally home after being on the road for two straight weeks.  

26. Southern Miss opened up the season with a 31-7 loss at South Alabama followed by their only win of the year against Grambling (37-0). Then, they lost three straight against Troy (21-9), Alabama (63-14) and Rice (24-19) 

27. They are a struggling offensive team, only averaging 288.8 yards per game (124th in FBS).  

28. Third string starter Jake Lange will take the starting reigns in this game. He was 23-of-37 for 304 passing yards with three interceptions and five sacks last week.  

29. Their star player on offense is running back Frank Gore Jr. He leads their offense with 81 carries for 360 yards and a rushing score.  

30. The USM offense averages 0.173 points per play, which is third-worst in the country. They are averaging only 0.120 points per play at home this year.  

31. Defensively, they give up 34.8 points per game, which ranks in the bottom 20 in the country. Their rush defense is stout, though, ranking 16th in FBS.  

32. They are allowing quarterbacks to complete 75.6% of pass attempts, second-worst in FBS.  

33. The defense is 13th in the country for first down defense 

34. Malik Shorts leads them defensively with 39 total tackles and one interception, followed by Jay Stanley with 26 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. 

35. UTEP’s largest win against Southern Miss was by 23 points when they beat the Golden Eagles 37-14 in 1953.  

Prediction for Saturday: UTEP 30 - Southern Miss 13

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