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Southern Miss Drowns UTEP 34-13

UTEP fought hard, but came up short in storm soaked Hattiesburg.

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Southern Miss. piled up 523 yards of total offense, while Nick Mullens threw four touchdown passes to help the Golden Eagles become bowl eligible in a soggy 34-13 dispatching of UTEP.

The Golden Eagles would get off to a fast start on both sides of the ball by forcing a quick UTEP three-and-out on the first possession of the game. That quick defensive stand would lead to an 8-play, 63 yard scoring drive with Nick Mullens finding Michael Thomas on an 11-yard slant route for the game's first touchdown.

UTEP's defense would play lights out in their next two drives by forcing a turnover on downs, then Nick Usher would sack Mullens causing a fumble that Gino Bresolin would recover at Golden Eagle 32-yard line.

The Miners had two first half drives on offense start past the 50-yard line, but could only manage a Jay Mattox field goal after a 17-play, 77 yard drive early in the second quarter that would end up being UTEP's lone scoring drive of the first half.

UTEP's strong defensive effort in the first half would be washed away in just three plays towards the end of the first half as the rain pelted M.M. Roberts stadium.

With 44 seconds left until halftime, the Golden Eagles put together a quick 3-play, 68 yard drive in just 33 seconds with Jalen Richard taking a nine yard screen pass in for a score to give Southern Miss. a 13-3 halftime lead.

Both teams would trade punts to open the second half, but then Southern Miss. put together an impressive scoring drive to give themselves some distance.

After UTEP punter Alan Luna pinned Southern Miss. inside their own 10-yard line with a 52-yard punt, Southern Miss. running back Ito Smith would run for 40-yards on three rushes to start the next Golden Eagle drive.

Mullens would then hit D.J. Thompson for a 26-yard gain on a third-and-six, then on the following play the pair would hook up for 27-yard score through the air to cap off a 5-play 93 yard drive and put Southern Miss. ahead 20-3 with 9:27 left in the third quarter.

The Miners would answer with a Jay Mattox field goal after a 11-play 69 yard drive that chewed 5:16 off the game clock.

Mullens would then find D.J. Thompson again for another score, this time a 10-yard strike after a 9-play, 75 yard march to answer the UTEP field goal and give Southern Miss. a commanding 27-6 lead.

With lightning and a tornado threat in the vicinity of the stadium, the game would go under a lighting delay after the Southern Miss. scoring drive which would last about an hour and a half.

After the delay, UTEP put together their lone touchdown drive of the afternoon via a one-yard run from LaQuintus Dowell to finish off a 9-play, 57 yard drive.

But on the ensuing Southern Miss. offensive possession, a fake field goal call by Todd Monkin put this one on ice with Tyler Saarazin scampering in for a touchdown from eight yards out at the 6:45 mark of the fourth quarter off a 25-yard field goal attempt.

Both Jalen Richard and Ito Smith ran for over 100 yards as the Golden Eagles ran for 246 yards as a team, and held UTEP to just three scoring drives on the Miners 10 offensive possessions.

Mullens finished 23-out-of-33 passing for 277 yards and four touchdowns.  D.J. Thompson had 10 catches for 112 yards and a pair of touchdown receptions to pace the bowl bound Golden Eagles.

UTEP was penalized six times for 55 yards, including a key illegal substitution penalty in the third quarter on a Southern Miss. punt which gave the Golden Eagles a free first down and helped the scoring drive before the weather delay with the Miners down just two scores at 20-6.

Mack Leftwich was 19-of-32 passing for 197 yards, the Miners finished with 298 total yards of offense, but were 9-of-17 on third down, and only averaged 4.7 yards per play.

Southern Miss. racked up 24 first downs to UTEP's 16, the Miners did crack the 100-yard rushing mark as a team led by Dowell who had 52 yards rushing on the day.

UTEP drops to 3-5 overall, and 1-3 in C-USA play, while Southern Miss. punches their bowl ticket and sits 6-3 overall, with a 4-1 mark in Conference USA.

The Miners will host Rice next Friday night at 6:00 p.m. Mountain time.