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Southern Miss vs. UTEP: First Look at the Golden Eagles

Sean Kugler called Southern Miss one of the top teams in C-USA, here's why....

NCAA Football: Savannah State at Southern Mississippi Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Golden Arm Mullens

No current C-USA quarterback has progressed upward the way Nick Mullens has at Southern Miss over the past three seasons.

Mullens has completed 58 percent of his pass attempts so far, and is just under the national average for passing success rate at 39.8 percent.

While Southern Miss' passing down success rate ranks 86th nationally, Mullens is still a major factor and is a guy UTEP needs to constantly pressure which will increase his mistake rate.

Mullens is second in their storied football history in passing yards, and completions. He also was on six different national watch lists coming into the season.

Production galore inside their defensive front seven

Southern Miss defensive line, and linebacker havoc rate ranks 3rd and 23rd in the nation.

Defensive line man Dylan Bradley, Xavier Thigpen, and linebacker D'Nerius Antoine, have combined to produce 27.3 percent of Southern Miss' total tackles. Thigpen adds six tackles for loss, while Bradley has added 3.5 TFL's on the season.

On passing downs, the Southern Miss defense has a 14.3 percent sack rate which is the 16th best mark in the country. UTEP's offensive line has been struggling the past two weeks, and this unit will give UTEP another stiff test.

Skill positions keep replenishing Southern Miss big play ability

Over the years, and even in their down years, Southern Miss always recruits their skill positions very well.

This year is no exception with a tall, and athletic receiving corps that will test UTEP's 3-4 defense which has fared decently against two spread style offenses.

Former Florida State wide out Isaiah Jones leads the Golden Eagles with 18 targets, and is averaging 20.5 yards per reception this season. D.J. Thompson was third on the team last season with 55 catches, and is averaging 10.2 yards per catch so far this season.

Another transfer who has made noise this year is Allenzae Staggers who is also a superb punt returner, and has a 66.7 percent catch rate on 12 targets this season.

The Golden Eagles have 12 offensive plays of 20-plus yards, including four of 65 yards or more for a score. The total number is 19 with seven touchdowns (which includes an interception and punt return).

Tall, fast, and each have the ability to change the game with one big play, and will be an area of concern for UTEP defense.

The Ito Smith factor

Ito Smith returns and is C-USA's second leading rusher behind Aaron Jones. Smith possess game breaking speed that could give the UTEP defense problems if he gets space, and green in front of him.

Smith ran for 1,128 yards last season, piling up 1,876 all-purpose yards as a sophomore.

In two plus season, Smith is averaging 110.3 all-purpose yards per game, and posted 213 all-purpose yards in the season opener against Kentucky.

He's currently averaging 6.8 yards per carry, and has gave Southern Miss a 46.1 percent rushing success rate on the season.

UTEP has seen power running backs the past two weeks, and will have to deal with a speed back who can do it all.

Stout, experienced offensive line

In the first three weeks of the season, Southern Miss' offensive line has combined to start 107 games over the past couple of seasons.

Anchored by veteran Center Cameron Tom who has started 38 straight games and can be considered C-USA's best and most consistent interior offensive lineman.

The Southern Miss offensive line is creating 3.28 yards per play on standard downs which ranks 37th in the nation, they also have only allowed three sacks in 63 quarterback pass attempts on the season.

With UTEP is struggling to find consistency inside their front seven to create a legit pass rush. Southern Miss looks to have a major advantage in this area.