Southern Miss Wears Down UTEP in 31-13 Victory
It was an ideal night for football at the Sun Bowl. The air was brisk but not unbearable, the wind was almost non existent, and there was hardly a cloud in the sky.
Once again the crowd was underwhelming, but the nearly 25,000 fans in attendance were vocal and let the Golden Eagles know they were there.
Southern Miss struck first with a 27 yard field goal by Danny Hrapmann. Once again the Miners bent but didn't break. Their red zone defense was strong, and held the Eagles to three after a long, sustained drive.
On the ensuing kickoff disaster struck for the Miners. Vernon Frazier fumbled the Southern Miss kickoff deep in Miner territory.
Southern Miss capitalized with this one yard touchdown pass from Austin Davis to Ryan Balentine
The ever resilient Miners could have sulked after the nightmare start, but they responded and put together a nine play 80 yard drive that culminated with this Leilyon Myers one yard touchdown run.
The Miners were able to settle into the game after the Myers touchdown. After swapping punts with the Eagles, UTEP struck again. A fourteen play 75 yard drive culminated with Dakota Warren rattling in this 25 yard field goal.
The Miners and Eagles went into the locker room tied at ten, and there was plenty of reason to believe UTEP could knock off a ranked conference foe at home.
The Miners forced a three-and-out on Southern Miss's first possession in the second half. UTEP was driving when a key non call changed the complexion of the game. Nick Lamaison threw a perfect strike in the direction of receiver Julio Lopez. Golden Eagle defensive back Kendrik Presley appeared to tackle Lopez well before the ball arrived. Instead of getting a pass interference call the Miners were forced to punt.
One play later Austin Davis hit Quentin Pierce on a 47 yard touchdown pass and Southern Miss never looked back.
After Dakota Warren's 47 yard field goal with 7:35 to go in the third the Miners weren't able to get on the board. You have to give a ton of credit to the stingy Southern Miss defense. They were able to shut down the Miner run game, and Lamaison didn't seem to have his best stuff.
With a stalling offense the Miner defense realized they would have to keep the team in the game. UTEP had a golden opportunity to make something happen when a tremendous Ian Campbell punt pinned Southern Miss at their own two yard line late in the third quarter.
With some clever running, the Golden Eagles were able to escape their end zone, and Dominique Sullivan capped off the 98 yard touchdown drive with this fifteen yard reception from Austin Davis that made the score 24-13 early in the fourth.
After another three-and-out by UTEP, the Miners forced Southern Miss into a tough decision on 4th and 1 at their own 25. Everyone in the stadium knew the Golden Eagles were trying to draw the Miners offsides, and the old hard count worked to perfection.
Southern Miss landed the knockout punch on the very next play with a Jamal Woodyard 68 yard touchdown run.
The 31-13 final does not indicate how well the Miner defense played. The Golden Eagle defense was as good as advertised, and the UTEP defense was asked to do a lot. They are still susceptible to the big play, but they make you earn everything in the red zone.
Fans shouldn't be too discouraged by the 18 point home loss to the best team in the league. UTEP players and coaches know they must move on, and will try to get one step closer to bowl eligibility with a road win against Rice next Saturday.