The UTEP Miners (2-8, 1-5) and the Southern Miss. Golden Eagles (0-10, 0-6) get together Saturday for a Conference USA football game at M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg. As their records will indicate, both team have underperformed in the 2012 season, and both are hungry for win.
The Miners enter the contest losing their last two, most recently at home to UCF a week ago. They put up a good fight in that one, keeping the game close throughout, but four turnovers eventually doomed them as they fell 31-24.
Southern Miss comes into the contest off a 34-6 drubbing at SMU, and are still searching for their first victory of the season. On the year, they are giving up an average of 38 points, while scoring only 18 themselves.
The Golden Eagles have been back and forth between quarterbacks Anthony Alford, a freshman and Chris Campbell, a junior. Alford has gotten the most snaps on the year, but Campbell played more in their most recent contest. It's not exactly clear how the time will be split this weekend, but neither has performed with great success.
On the year, Alford has completed only 51 of his 118 pass attempts for 553 yards, no touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. Campbell has completed 27 of his 55 passes for 322 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. The Golden Eagles as a whole only pass for 145 yards a game (117th in FBS).
The USM rushing attack is led by senior running back Desmond Johnson. He has carried the ball 82 times for 460 yards, and also has two touchdowns. He was suspended for a violation of team rules a week ago, but is expected back in the lineup against the Miners. Freshman Jalen Richard will likely get some touches as well. On the year he's rushed for 339 yards and 4 touchdowns on 68 carries.
The Golden Eagles wide receiving corp is led by senior wideout Tracy Lampley. On the year he's got 19 grabs for 284 yards. Behind him are junior Dominique Sullivan, who has 16 receptions for 239 yards and 2 scores, and also junior Justin Sims who has 17 catches for 232 yards.
Southern Miss' defensive unit is headed by junior linebacker Alan Howze, junior defensive back Deron Wilson, and sophomore defensive back Emmanuel Johnson. On the year, Howze has 47 tackles and 2.5 sacks, Wilson has 51 tackles, 7 pass deflections, and an interception, and Johnson has 38 tackles and a couple of pass deflections.
On the other side of the ball, the Miners are led by redshirt freshman quarterback Blaire Sullivan. He replaced senior Nick Lamaison over the last couple of weeks, and looks to be the starter for the remainder of the year. So far he's gone 11 of 22 for 182 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception, and has also rushed 34 times for 128 yards and a score.
The UTEP running backs are led by sophomore Nathan Jeffery. Jeffery took a while to get back on track after a lingering groin injury held him out of action in the early going. He has now rushed for 726 yards and 4 touchdowns on 150 carries this year, and has put up back to back 130+ yard rushing performances.
The Miner receivers are led by senior Mike Edwards, and sophomore Jordan Leslie. Leslie leads the way with 46 receptions for 764 yards and 5 touchdowns, while Edwards has 42 catches for 610 yards and 7 touchdowns. Freshman running back L.A. Dowell, and sophomore tight end Craig Wenrick are the only other Miners to have multiple catches over the last two weeks.
The UTEP defense is led by senior linebacker Josh Fely, as well as senior defensive backs Drew Thomas and DeShawn Grayson. Fely leads the team in tackles with 92, and also has 4 pass deflections, Thomas has 63 tackles, 7 pass deflections, and an interception, and Grayson has 74 tackles, and 8 pass deflections.
Make no mistake about this game, it will not be an easy one for the Miners. While the Golden Eagles have 0 wins, and have an offense that ranks near the bottom of the FBS in various major statistical categories, this will be no walk in the park.
The Miners have struggled on the road. Not just this year, not just under Mike Price, and not even just this decade. For whatever reasons, we have just never been a good road team, regardless of what situation we are in.
Now, the UTEP defense has proven that they can do well to contain even the best of offenses in this conference, and we shouldn't expect to see anything different this week. But, the offense has got to find a way to help the defense out with sustained drives.
I'm sure it will be tempting to try and run the ball 100 times against a struggling USM defense. But, no matter how much they have struggled, if we become one dimensional they will catch on, and they will figure out a way to stop us.
More than that, we have to establish an identity for Blaire Sullivan as the quarterback of the Miners, and an identity for the UTEP offense will Blaire Sullivan under center.
For the Miners to win this game, the play calling for the Miners offense has to be better than it was last week, and at that, has to be better than its been all season. If we're going to pick up a win on the road, we've got to be able to keep the Golden Eagle defense off balance, and we can't be predictable. I have confidence that we can do that.
Miners 27, Golden Eagles 21