GAME NOTES: The reigning defending Conference USA champion Southern Miss Golden Eagles continue to search for their first win of the season as they host the Texas-El Paso Miners at Roberts Stadium for their home finale.
The mighty have fallen in Hattiesburg. The Golden Eagles went from the 2011 Conference USA champions to the owners of the longest active losing streak in the FBS at 10 games. First year coach Ellis Johnson watched his team endure a 34-6 loss at SMU last weekend, which dropped USM to 0-6 in league action. Southern Miss has never lost 10 games in a season before and it has not finished a season without a home win since 1977.
USM has a winnable game on the menu this week with UTEP coming to Hattiesburg. The Miners are riding a two-game losing slide and have lost six of their last seven. Coach Mike Price's team had lost 17 of its last 18 C-USA road games as well. The Miners nearly upset UCF last week as they overcame a 14-point deficit in the final frame. The Knights managed to jump back in front and win after Latavius Murray broke away for a game-deciding 45-yard TD run.
This will be just the sixth time these schools have met on the gridiron. The series began in the 1954 Sun Bowl when UTEP downed USM, 37-14. Brett Favre avenged that loss by leading the Golden Eagles to a 38-18 decision in the 1988 Independence Bowl. USM then won two of the three C-USA clashes with the Miners, including a 31-13 rout in Texas in 2011.
Price handed the reins of his offense over to freshman QB Blaire Sullivan last week with Nick Lamaison not fully recovered from a nagging hamstring injury. Sullivan was unimpressive from the pocket with 79 yards and an interception on 5-of-11 passing, but he made enough plays on the ground to tally 74 yards and a rushing touchdown.
Sullivan's rushing performance was not quite as impressive as Nathan Jeffery's dynamic display. Jeffery rushed for a game-high 175 yards and two TDs on 23 carries. His second touchdown run was a game-tying 69-yard dash across the goal line in the fourth quarter.
With the postseason out of reach, Sullivan will start over Lamaison on Saturday to gain valuable in-game experience.
Jordan Leslie and Mike Edwards are the two primary targets in the passing game. Both of their averages went down with the rookie under center versus UCF's stingy defensive unit. Leslie led the team with only two catches for 51 yards.
UTEP surrenders 429.7 yards per game to opponents, but its scoring defense is much better due to its big play ability. The Miners are great at dislodging the ball from opposing ball carriers and already have forced 20 fumbles. However, they have not recorded an interception since Oct. 6, a span of four games.
Twenty different players have recorded at least 10 tackles on the year for UTEP. Josh Fely (92) has the eighth most tackles in the C-USA. Horace Miller is an aggressive pass rusher up front with a team-best six sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss.
The cause of the Golden Eagles' lack of success so far is clear. Southern Miss is just 11th in scoring offense (17.9 ppg) and last in total offense (305.4 ypg) after finishing second in the conference in both categories last season. Southern Miss has been especially weak through the air, averaging only 145.2 yards per game, which is the worst in the C-USA.
Matters got worse last week prior to the team's trip to Dallas. Coach Johnson announced quarterback Arsenio Favor and running back Desmond Johnson had been suspended from competing against SMU. The loss of Favor was not as significant, as he started only one of nine games. However, Johnson's absence left USM without its featured back.
Johnson is still the team's most accomplished rusher this season statistically with 460 yards on 82 carries, despite missing the past two games. Jalen Richard stepped into Johnson's vacated position to rush for 122 yards on 19 attempts in two games.
Re-establishing a solid rushing attack is vital for the Golden Eagles due to their unstable quarterback situation. Three different Eagles took snaps in last week's loss to SMU. Chris Campbell registered a team-high 93 yards and a TD pass, completed only 8-of-18 attempts and threw two picks. Dual-threat freshman Anthony Alford is likely to start this week.
The Golden Eagles are no better on the other side of the ball with allowed averages of 37.8 points and 432.2 yards per contest, which rank 10th and eighth in the C-USA, respectively. USM failed to force a turnover or record a sack against the Mustangs.
Jamie Collins has been one of the lone bright spots on the team as he has amassed 80 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and nine sacks. Collins is leading the conference and ranks fifth in the FBS in tackles for loss. Unfortunately, Collins has not had very much help as the team's second leading tackler, Alan Howze, has 25 less stops.
The Miners played well with their rookie quarterback under center, as his scrambling ability wore down UCF which led to open lanes for Jeffery. Southern Miss is currently a program in disarray. One of the Golden Eagles needs to identify himself as a leader on the offensive side of the ball and take control of this runaway train.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texas-El Paso 28, Southern Miss 20
11/14 10:38:09 ET
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