Southern Miss Devastates UTEP in C-USA Opener, 31-13
Questionable offensive play calls along with the defense allowing too many big plays turned UTEP's Conference USA opener against Southern Miss upside down, as the Miners (1-3) left Hattiesburg, Miss. with an unfulfilling 31-13 road loss.
On top of the disgruntling outing, the Miners entered this game relatively healthy but left with more bumps and bruises than they would have liked. Five starters exited the game at one point with injuries.
Southern Miss scored a pair of touchdowns in the first five minutes of action to give them a commanding 14-0 lead. Running back De'Michael Harris hauled a 74-yard touchdown reception on the third play from scrimmage. Then, the Golden Eagles blocked a UTEP punt and scored two plays later on a two-yard rushing touchdown by Harris.
UTEP senior quarterback Brandon Jones started the game shaky for the Miners, completing just 3-of-7 passes to start the game. By the fourth drive, senior quarterback Kai Locksley stepped into the game and orchestrated a 68-yard touchdown drive, setting up a 28-yard field goal by Gavin Baechle.
Southern Miss gutted the clock on their next drive with a 12-play, 78-yard drive resulting in a 22-yard touchdown reception by Jordan Mitchell from Golden Eagles quarterback Jack Abraham.
UTEP responded with a lengthy drive of their own toward the end of the second half. They moved the ball into the red zone, but on a short third-down play, they opted to pass for the end zone. Back-to-back delay of game penalties gave Baechle a long 46-yard field goal attempt, which he would nail just before the half.
With just 16 seconds on the clock, UTEP failed on a squib kick and Southern Miss recovered at about the 50. Abraham hit his target on the first play to put Southern Miss in field goal position, ending the half with a 38-yard field goal by kicker Andrew Stein.
Going into the break down 24-6 felt frustrating for the Miners to say the least.
Out of the half, Locksley scored on the first UTEP offensive play through a beautifully designed 63-yard quarterback rush.
It was a ballgame until Southern Miss sucked the life out of the Miners with a 10-play, 82-yard drive in the third quarter, finished by a six-yard passing touchdown from Abraham to receiver Jaylond Adams.
On the next drive, Locksley was injured after a 10-yard scramble. Jones was thrown into the game but could not orchestrate a scoring drive for the rest of the night.
Locksley finished 8-of-15 for 109 passing yards and 114 rushing yards with a touchdown. Jones ended his rough night 6-of-13 for 59 passing yards.
The running backs were nonexistent tonight, as Treyvon Hughes (four carries, one yard) and Josh Fields (two carries, -3 yards) were never able to get established on the ground.
Devaughn Cooper and Alan Busey led the receivers with four and three catches, respectively, for 51 receiving yards each. Tight end Jess Trussell also had three catches for 33 yards.
Michael Lewis led the defense in tackles (11), while Chris Richardson had a solid outing on the defensive line with four total tackles and a tackle for loss.
In the first half, safety Justin Prince appeared to have injured his ankle and during the post-game interview, head coach Dana Dimel said it didn't appear good. Offensive lineman Ruben Guerra was in and out of the game with an ankle injury, which Dimel said was ok.
Wide receiver Tre'Shon Wolf left the game with an injury in the second quarter and his status is questionable, per Dimel. Linebacker Sione Tupou was helped off the field late in the game as well.
Cornerback Ykili Ross didn't travel with the team due to an injury.
Good news, though, Locksley's injury that knocked him out of the game doesn't appear to be serious, per Dimel, and the team kept him out as more of a precautionary measure.
"We were playing a really good football team in Southern Miss and in a tough environment and we go down 14-0 early in the ball game, but I thought after that it was a really solid football game,” head coach Dana Dimel said in a statement. “I was mostly proud of the way we competed. Obviously, we had our mistakes and we have to eliminate the unforced errors. But with the way our guys are fighting and the effort they are giving, it is just unbelievable and I am so proud of that. We have a big game coming up this week against UTSA, so the challenge was to have a great week next week, get better and get ourselves ready for a huge game against UTSA."
The Miners will host UTSA (1-3) next Saturday on Homecoming at the Sun Bowl. Until then, the Miners will need to reevaluate their play-calling and rectify their mistakes from this uninspiring performance.