UTEP 26 – Southern Miss 14: Defense Comes Up Big in 2nd C-USA Win
The Miners (5-1, 2-0 C-USA) are just one win away from bowl eligibility.
UTEP, which had won just five regular season games in a total of four seasons coming into 2021, is now 5-1 to start the year for the first time since 2010. They defeated Southern Miss (26-14) on the road for the first time since 2012.
Rejoice, UTEP football fans. This year's team simply won't back down when adversity hits them.
Credit the defense for putting an exclamation point mark on this one. They totaled three takeaways, including a forced fumble by Praise Amaewhule that turned into a 55 yard touchdown recovery by Breon Hayward, along with a safety sack by Josh Ortega.
The UTEP defense ended with five sacks, 14 tackles for losses, three pass breakups and allowed 254 yards of total offense by Southern Miss.
"They're playing with a bunch of confidence right now and they're playing off each other," said UTEP head coach Dana Dimel. "We had our best week of practice and we played our best game, if not one of our best games of the year."
The squad scored on their opening possession, as running back Ronald Awatt raced in for a 17-yard touchdown. Southern Miss matched the Miners right away with a touchdown of their own off a Jake Lange 31-yard pass to Jason Brownlee.
Two drives later, UTEP cornerback Dennis Barnes swiped an interception from Lange. However, the offense couldn't capitalize on the turnover. The offense had more struggles late in the first half, including a drive that went all the way inside the USM 5 yard line, but resulted in a missed field goal by kicker Gavin Baechle.
On UTEP's next drive, the offense ran an end-around play that led to a 55-yard rushing touchdown by Jacob Cowing, his first rushing touchdown of his career. The Miners had multiple scoring chances in the first half, but went into the break with a one-score lead at 14-7.
Coming out of the half, Gavin Hardison tossed an interception in the back of his own end zone. The defense bailed UTEP out thanks to a Amaewhule strip sack and a Hayward 55-yard return for a score. The two-touchdown lead wiped out all the momentum from Southern Miss.
Hardison finished 7-for-17 through the air for 127 passing yards and one interception. Rey Flores led all receivers with four catches for 48 yards. Ronald Awatt led the ground game with 154 yards on 17 carries and one touchdown.
Up next: UTEP will host La Tech (2-3, 1-0 C-USA) on Saturday, Oct. 16 at the Sun Bowl.