This Saturday the  UTEP Miners will take on the  #25 Southern Miss Golden Eagles at 6:02 p.m. (MT) in the Sun Bowl. The all time series is tied at 2-2 with each team taking the most recent contest on the other's home field. The Miners won in Hattiesburg 40-37 (OT) in 2008, and the Golden Eagles won in El Paso in 2007 56-30.
The Golden Eagles come into the game at 6-1 overall, and have reeled off 5 in a row. Southern Miss' last two wins are perhaps their most impressive. Two weeks ago, the Golden Eagles ran over Navy by a final score of 63-35, and then turned in their best all around performance last week in a 27-3 win over SMU.
The Miners are now 4-3 on the season after taking care of Colorado St. last week in the Sun Bowl. The Miners have won 2 in a row, and have rushed for nearly 900 yards in the last three weeks. The identity of the Miners in recent years has been that of a heavy passing team, but that has been completely changed over the last weeks, and apparently for the better.
UTEP's rushing attack is led by a trio of seniors in Joe Banyard, Vernon Fraizer, and Leilyon Myers. Banyard has racked up 514 yards on the ground on 65 carries, while Frazier has amassed 268 on 34 touches. Both of those guys have 3 TDs, and are averaging an incredible 7.9 yards per carry. Myers, the power back, has 257 yards on 66 carries, for a 3.9 yard average, and 6 TDs. Freshman Nathan Jeffery has also showed some promise rushing for 149 yards on 21 carries (7.1 ypc).
The Miners now rank 74th in the nation in passing yards per game with 216 yards. Normally that would be a bad thing, but considering this team's new identity it's definitely not. The team is now up to 43rd in rushing yards per game, and is averaging nearly 175 yards a contest. The Miners also rank 57th (29.3) and 63rd (26.7) in points per game and points allowed.
Southern Miss is led by Senior QB Austin Davis who started out the season a little slow, but has passed for 1291 yards, 12 TDs, and 3 INTs during the team's 5 game winning streak. The Golden Eagle rushing attack is led by Kendrick Hardy who has 426 yards and 2 TDs on 72 carries. Ryan Balentine and Kevin Bolden are Davis' favorite targets with a combined 65 receptions, 835 yards, and 9 TDs.
The Golden Eagles are a very well rounded team. They rank 34th in passing yards per game with 263, and 20th in rushing yards per game with 209. The Golden Eagles are also averaging 37 points a game, good for 21st, while only giving up 19 points per game, good for 19th.
This will be an extremely tough test for the Miners. The Golden Eagles were my preseason pick to win the conference, and even though they got off to a slow start, they are now playing at the top of their game. At the same time, this will be anything but easy for Southern Miss. The Miners are playing physical, confident, and have the home field advantage.
The Miners are going to have play 4 complete quarters if they want to pick up this win. They've played some great ball over the last weeks, but mental lapses and mistakes have allowed opponents to stay in the game, and in Houston's case win it. This is a tough team that will capitalize on any chance we give them. We certainly don't want to be giving out those Christmas presents CMP has been talking about. I'm willing to bet that everyone out there will be picking the Golden Eagles this week, but I'm going to take a chance and pick my Miners. Don't let me down!
Projection: UTEP 34, Southern Miss 30