Quarterback Keon Howard made his fifth career start as he led the Golden Eagles to a 24-0 homecoming win against the University of Texas El-Paso.
Howard was intercepted on the opening drive, setting up what would become a turnover ridden night. Even so, the Southern Miss defense managed to contain a struggling UTEP offense, ranking dead last in C-USA total offense heading into the matchup.
On the following Southern Miss drive, Howard charged forward. Howard found wide receiver Korey Robertson for a 23-yard gain that set up an opportunity for a deep shot. Wide receiver Jaylond Adams was the next target, hauling in a 52-yard touchdown reception; the first of the freshman’s career.
“It felt amazing to be able to get my first touchdown and make some big plays for my team,” said Adams. “Every week my confidence level gets higher and higher just being around a positive group of guys.”
However, this was all the Golden Eagles could put together in the first quarter. Though opportunities did present themselves, penalties and turnovers proved to be the difference. Southern Miss opened the second quarter on the UTEP 18-yard line, but this scoring chance evaporated as Howard fumbled for his second turnover of the game.
Moving inside the two-minute mark of the second quarter, a turnover squander ensued. Howard failed to convert on a fourth down attempt, turning the ball over to the Miners. Southern Miss’ defense quickly forced UTEP to punt, but 42 seconds later were forced to punt as well. The Miners then muffed the Golden Eagles’ punt and allowed Southern Miss to recover.
Howard set up shop at the UTEP 30-yard line with 1:06 left in the half and threw his second interception of the game. Fortunately for USM, the Miners gave it right back on yet another fumble on the Miners’ one-yard line. From the goal line, running back Ito Smith slashed his way to a two-yard rushing touchdown that gave Southern Miss a crucial 14-0 lead entering the half.
“That fumble was a big fumble; it was a big play because it gives you a two-score lead going into half,” said Head Coach Jay Hopson. “We were kind of upset with some of the missed opportunities we had and weren’t able to capitalize on in the first half, but I felt like our defense was playing well, so that was a plus.”
Quarterback struggles shifted in the second half, as defensive back Cornell Armstrong secured his second interception of the season on a pass from UTEP’s quarterback Ryan Metz during the Miners’ opening
drive. Though unable to capitalize on the turnover, the Southern Miss defense stood tall, holding the Miners to just six first downs on the day.
In the fourth, running back Ito Smith refused to be brought down on his way to a 20-yard touchdown run and was later followed by a 38-yard field goal from kicker Parker Shaunfield. With Shaunfield’s longest field goal of the year, the Golden Eagles capped at 24-0 shutout over UTEP, the first shutout vs. an FBS opponent for Southern Miss since defeating UAB back in 2001.
Smith finished with 129 rushing yards and two touchdowns, his fifth straight and 20th career 100-yard game. Howard ended 16-for-27 for 221 yards and one touchdown. Unfortunately for Southern Miss, that was also joined by three turnovers.
Southern Miss will take on Louisiana Tech next in Ruston, LA on Saturday Oct. 21 at 6 p.m.