*EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was written and published before the cancelation of the UTEP game.
After Florida Atlantic postponed a game due to positive COVID-19 cases on its team, the Golden Eagles look to resume its winning momentum against another conference opponent: the University of Texas at El Paso.
Southern Miss earned its first victory of the season against North Texas. After three tough losses in a row, the team’s first victory showed what they can be capable of accomplishing.
Southern Miss’s offense fired on all cylinders against North Texas, gaining a season-high 437 yards. Southern Miss’s backfield also had its best outing on the year with 202 rushing yards. Despite not having running backs Kevin Perkins andDon Ragsdale, and despite losing Dee Baker to an injury in the first quarter, freshman RB Frank Gore Jr. and junior RB Darius Maberry stepped up for the biggest games of their careers.
While the defense forced three turnovers against North Texas, the unit still allowed 483 yards to go through. The Mean Green’s quarterback Austin Aune passed for 339 yards of those yards, completing six passes of 15 or more yards.
Still, the opportunities Southern Miss’s defense created for the offense were crucial in the team’s victory. Linebacker Hayes Maples has been a tackling machine, recording two straight games with double-digit tackles.
“I thought our defense did a great job tacking,” Head Coach Scotty Walden said. “We significantly cut down the number of missed tackles we had [against Tulane]. We made them earn everything they got on defense, which was the [game plan].”
The special teams unit also contributed to the victory by blocking a field goal and recovering a fumble on a punt return.
Southern Miss should look to replicate its success in the running game to both open up play calling for the offense and to keep the ball away from the Miners. Southern Miss won the longest time of possession by eleven minutes against North Texas thanks to the team’s success running the ball.
Junior receiver Demarcus Jones explained how the team’s running success helps the offense’s play-action success.
“The running game has been a lot of help for us because, with the play-action, they think the running back is going to get the ball because Frank has been balling,” Jones said.
While quarterback Jack Abraham did not have his most efficient passing game against North Texas, he still has a high 64.4% completion rate throughout this season, averaging 13 yards per completion.
Abraham has also been without his top target, wide receiver Tim Jones, for two games, but has found success with his receiving corps. WR Jason Brownlee has emerged as a new top target for Abraham, earning two consecutive games with more than 100 yards and three straight games with a touchdown catch. WR Demarcus Jones leads the team in receptions, though, with 19 over three games. He also earned his first touchdown catch of the year last week.
UTEP (3-2, 0-1 Conference USA) is coming off of a 17-21 loss against Louisiana Tech. Despite the loss, the Miners showed an impressive defensive performance. The Miners had twelve tackles against the Bulldogs, and their defensive end, Praise Amaewhule, recorded three and a half sacks. Amaewhule has seen three straight games with a sack and has recorded six sacks total. Linebackers Stephen Forester and Keenan Stewart also recorded double digits in tackles against the Bulldogs. Forester leads the Miners through five games with 35 total tackles.
Overall, the Miners have one of the best defenses in Conference USA. Currently, the Miners are ranked second in the conference in total defense. The Miners have also allowed the fewest first downs per game in the conference.
The Miners haven’t had as much success on offense, though, ranking last in scoring and rushing yards in Conference USA. Quarterback Gavin Hardison leads the conference in passing yards through six games, but has a conference low 53.6% completion percentage.
However, the Miners could find success against a Southern Miss defense that has allowed nearly 500 yards and 40 points per contest. The Golden Eagles will also be challenged by the Miners’ offensive weapons, including receiver Jacob Cowing. Cowing has yet to score this season, but averages six catches and 92 yards per game.
Kickoff will be on Oct. 17 at 6:30 P.M. at Sun Bowl Stadium. The game will be available to watch on ESPN2.