MinerRush: What has been the MO of this year's Southern Miss. team, and what do you expect come Saturday?
Patrick McGee: Southern Miss' 2014 season has really been an up and down campaign. The season started off with a 49-0 drubbing at Mississippi State. The fans were very upset following this result as MSU is typically a bottom tier SEC team and many thought that USM could at least be competitive with them. However, since Mississippi State has now proven themselves as the nation's top team, the fans don't feel nearly as bad about that game as they did when the game was first over. The following week, Southern Miss beat SWAC foe Alcorn State but it was much closer than it should have been (6 point win). After splitting games with Alabama and Appalachian State (as expected), many USM fans expected a win in the CUSA opener against Rice at home. That didn't happen as the the Owls won by 18. The following week at MTSU, USM had a shot at the game but made far too many mistakes and lost by 6. Continuing with the theme of inconsistency, USM went on the road and beat North Texas by 10, playing much better than they did against Rice or MTSU. Last week's game against Louisiana Tech was assumed to winnable but starting QB Nick Mullens was injured on the first drive. USM ended up losing by 11. To sum all of that up, this team is just very inconsistent. It's hard to tell which team will show up against UTEP. It could be the team that played well at North Texas. Or it could be the team that showed up against Rice in the CUSA opener.
MinerRush: It seems Todd Monken has things going right after a few forgettable seasons, is that a fair assessment?
Patrick McGee: I think that Monken definitely has things headed in the right direction. He stepped into a horrible situation following the one year of the Ellis Johnson experiment. It's tough to blame him for the 1-11 record last year. This year's team has certainly shown improvement compared to the 2013 squad, having already won 3 games (albeit the wins aren't great, but hey, they are still wins). I think once he recruits all of the players for his system, USM will get back to bowls on a yearly basis.
MinerRush: How excited are fans about the future of Nick Mullens?
Patrick McGee: Southern Miss fans are pretty excited about Mullens. He does make some silly mistakes sometimes but overall he's a solid QB. He probably won't be as good as Favre or Austin Davis, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if he ended up top 3 in most of USM's all time passing statistics by the time he graduates.
MinerRush: What are the strengths of the defense, will they be able to hold up against UTEP's run attack?
Patrick McGee: The defense isn't horrible (like it was in 2013) but it's still below average. That being said, the defense played well against North Texas and in the first half against Louisiana Tech (before running out of gas in the second half). The rushing defense was impressive against a LaTech team that can run the ball fairly well, allowing only 30 yards on the ground. They also held North Texas to only 108 yards on the ground. Overall, I think the Southern Miss defense will hold up OK against UTEP but they still may give up around 30 points.
MinerRush: Which receivers do you feel UTEP has to be able to contain?
Patrick McGee: Michael Thomas is probably Southern Miss' most talented receiver with 31 catches and 474 yards so far in 2014. He started the season out slow but has really become an impact player in the past few games. Houston transfer Casey Martin gets the most targets and Mullens like going to him often, especially on 3rd down situations. He has 44 receptions, 1st on the team and 3rd in CUSA. Markese Triplett is another guy to look out for and he had a big game against Louisiana Tech last week. However, he sometimes has a problem with dropping passes.
MinerRush: What has caused the shuffle and inconsistencies along the offensive line?
Patrick McGee: The offensive line isn't great, but they are slowing start to gel and become a better unit. I think the main reason they struggled was simply lack of experience. JUCO transfer Norman Price has been impressive in recent games as has Rashod Hill. The offensive line did take a bit of a step back against LaTech allowing -31 rushing yards and a few sacks, but I do think that this unit is getting better for the most part.
Patrick McGee: I'll go with UTEP winning 31-21, although I wouldn't be too surprised if Southern Miss came away with the win on Saturday.
Huge thanks to Patrick for giving us some Southern Miss. insight, check out his work at www.underdogdyansty.com