Caption: Southern Miss’ second-string quarterback Cole Weeks passes against La. Tech’s defense Saturday October 25th, 2014. Cole is predicted to play in this week’s game against UTEP if Mullens is still out from a foot injury. – Susan Broadbridge
Coming off a 31-20 loss to La. Tech, Southern Miss (3-5) looks to bounce back when they travel to El Paso, Texas to face the UTEP Miners (4-3) Saturday at 7 p.m.
Last week, the Golden Eagles lost their starting quarterback, Nick Mullens, to a foot injury and are preparing to play without him.
“There are a number of things they are going to do to check,” said head coach Todd Monken. “The X-rays were negative Saturday. He couldn’t push off of it. He has some swelling there. We have to do some further evaluations to see where we are going to be with him.”
Mullens landed awkwardly on his right foot on the first series when he was rolling out of the pocket and a defensive lineman brought him down on the sideline. Redshirt senior Cole Weeks stepped in and played well, finishing the game completing 28 of his 45 passes for 338 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Weeks is the first backup quarterback to come into a game and throw for over 300 yards in Southern Miss history.
“He is very competitive. That is probably his biggest strength. He is like another coach on the field,” Monken said. “I think he understands the concepts. For him, I am sure the preparation will be different like it is with every player that finds out they are going to start, especially quarterbacks. Our team has a lot of faith in Cole (Weeks). It is the expectations of the position. Hopefully, we will have Nick (Mullens) back, but if not, Cole is going to go.”
If Weeks gets the start, he and the Golden Eagle offense will be facing a UTEP defense that has only yielded 113 first downs for the season. That total is ranked seventh nationally and first in Conference USA.
The UTEP defense produced one of the best performances in program history during the 34-0 shellacking of UTSA last Saturday. The Miners kept the chain gang still, yielding only two first downs.
The stingy effort set a program record for fewest first downs given up in a single game. The Roadrunners never made it past midfield in the first half and finished the game with just 70 total yards.
The only weakness of the defense is getting to the quarterback. The defense ranks in the lower half of C-USA in sacks with eight. With protection, Weeks and Michael Thomas will have a chance for some big plays. Last week Thomas, along with senior Markese Triplett, had 100-yard receiving games.
Triplett finished with six catches for a team-high 114 yards. It was Triplett’s first 100-yard receiving game of the year and third of his career. Triplett went over 1,000-receiving yards for his career in the contest, having now notched 1,064 yards on 75 career catches.
The game marked the first time Southern Miss had two receivers collect 100 receiving yards since 2011. So if given time, this defense is vulnerable to the big play through the air.
Offensively, the Miners use a running back by committee. El Paso native Aaron Jones ranks 15th amongst all FBS players with 121.1 rushing yards per game through the first seven games.
UTEP running backs have also been used as an instrumental element to the passing game. More than half of quarterback Jameill Showers’ completions, 49 out of 95, have gone to running backs.
Jones leads the Miners in receptions with 19, while Autrey Golden ranks second with 18. Showers has proven he will check the ball down to one of his running backs before throwing a risky pass so the Golden Eagle defense will need to play with discipline and key on the backs out the back field.
Clearly the Golden Eagles showed a capacity to win in the La. Tech game. What is key for the Golden Eagles this Saturday will be Weeks’ performance at quarterback and the offensive line’s ability to last all four quarters.