Southern Miss (3-1, 1-0) traveled to El Paso, Texas to face conference opponent UTEP (1- 3, 0-1). The 1,125-mile trip was nothing less than productive for Southern Miss, as it earned the win by a margin of 34-7.
Southern Miss was the first team to put points on the board with an early field goal in the first quarter. UTEP answered with a 68-yard touchdown run by Aaron Jones. Jones was Conference USA’s leading rusher, entering the game and finishing with 101 yards at the half.
Jones faced multiple setbacks throughout the game, sidelining him for the majority of the second half. While he added 26 more yards to his stats, another Miner would not find the end zone for the duration of the game.
Jones’ effort was the only positive showing for UTEP, as no other element of the offense or defense could prosper over the Golden Eagles.
The Southern Miss defense had three Golden Eagles finish with five or more tackles. Defensive star Dylan Bradley finished the game with six tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack. Fellow defensive lineman D’Nerius Antoine was another defensive factor, contributing eight tackles as well.
Bradley and Antoine were not the only players contributing to the effectiveness of Southern Miss’ defense.
Curtis Mikell recorded both interceptions for the Golden Eagles, one being returned for a 100-yard touchdown. Mikell became the first Golden Eagle to record multiple interceptions in a game since Marquese Wheaton in 2011.
Mikell’s interception came after UTEP’s first possession of the second half. The touchdown tied the school record for the longest interception and extended USM’s lead by 31-7.
Defense was not the only productive aspect of Southern Miss. Ito Smith rushed for 108 yards off of 16 carries. Smith’s 100 yard game pushed his streak to four consecutive games with 100 plus yards. Quarterback Nick Mullens threw for 176 yards and three touchdowns.
It was not the greatest night for the receiving core, but D.J. Thompson connected with Mullens four times for 48 yards and one touchdown.
The one touchdown was the momentum switch Southern Miss needed. UTEP never saw the lead after that score.
Southern Miss must stay aggressive as it plays host to Rice this Saturday, Oct. 1. Kickoff is set for 6:00 p.m.