The Southern Miss Golden Eagles are bowl eligible for the first time in three years. Southern Miss dominated the UTEP Miners, 27-6, in a rainy, defensive slugfest. Even after a lengthy rain delay, there was no denying the Golden Eagles the victory over the Miners.
“I thought our team did what it needed to do to win,” Southern Miss coach Monken said. “We haven’t been perfect, yet, which is a good sign. You win by three touchdowns and leave points on the board. I’m happy for our seniors to get to number six and put us in a position, we don’t have anything yet, but to be able to put us in position for a bowl game, which should be the standard here, it’s why I wanted to be the head coach here.”
Early on however, UTEP seemed to control most of the game through a ball control offense and fantastic defense. The game seemed to mirror the 2014 version. However, a key drive right before half seemed to bolster Southern Miss’ confidence and dampen the Miners confidence.
A 38-yard run by Jalen Richard and a 26-yard pass catch by Mike Thomas put USM at the four-yard line. Two plays later, Mullens completed a touchdown pass to Richard to increase the lead to two scores.
After halftime, the Golden Eagles picked up where they left off and added a touchdown in the third quarter. Mullens connected with DJ Thompson for a 27-yard strike. Then, in the fourth quarter, Thompson added his second touchdown reception of the gain, this one of 11 yards.
“I want nine wins,” Thompson said. “Simple as that. I was telling them earlier, we set a lot of standards for ourselves, a bowl game, winning season, conference championship and things of that nature and we really just marking everything off the list.”
Then the hour and 27 minute rain delay began. After the rain delay was up, UTEP took the ensuing kick-off and marched right down the field on a cold Golden Eagle defense. LaQuintus Donald ran it in for the Miners and cut the Southern Miss lead to just two scores, 27-13.
The rain delay was a huge factor in the game, as only a handful of fans remained in the stadium and the players felt it on the field. Southern Miss’ defense was slowed by the delay’ according to Monken, but that didn’t hinder the offense.
Southern Miss needed a spark after the Miners came out of the delay firing on all cylinders. USM drove to the Miner 10-yard line, but were held to a field goal attempt. But, Monken, known for his aggressive play calling, called a fake field goal and Tyler Sarazin walked into the end zone to ice the game, 34-13.
“We had it ready for last week, it just never came up,” Monken said. “We went unbalanced into the boundary and they’re a field block team, so we got more than they got if they don’t adjust to it and that’s on coach Wozniak.”
The Golden Eagles offense was true to form, despite starting a little slow, but still managed 34 points. While Southern Miss is known for their offense, it should be noted that their defense has come to the fore front in recent weeks. In the last four weeks, they have not given up over 300 yards.
The Golden Eagles have a bye week coming up before three huge games against Rice, Old Dominion and Louisiana Tech. Monken said he had only one thing to say when his team returned to play Old Dominion on Nov. 21.
“If I could pay for all the tickets and not go broke, I would pay for all the tickets,” Monken said. “To get everybody here, because our players deserve it. If you want to come and boo, come and boo. We need you here.
“For our guys, especially the guys that never redshirted,” Monken continued. “That went four years of grinding it out and stayed, because there’s a lot of guys that didn’t. There’s a lot of guys that didn’t believe or do the right things, didn’t buy into me and didn’t buy into our coaches and didn’t buy into this university and they were flat out wrong. Shame on them, for not being here at this time and they’re kicking themselves at home.”