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UTEP at Southern Miss: Game Preview

NCAA Football: North Texas at Southern Mississippi Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The Breakdown

Coming off a spirited effort and near upset of WKU, UTEP will head southeast to face a Southern Miss team coming off a big C-USA West division victory last week.

The Golden Eagles used the big play to pick up their first ever win in San Antonio, and boast of the best and most explosive running backs in the league.

Senior Ito Smith will be a can’t miss NFL prospect this spring, boasting a 6.8 yard per carry average, and looks like a LeSean McCoy clone with his running style.

Smith is second in school history in all-purpose yards, and is third on the team in targets and receiving yards this season.

Who takes snaps at quarterback appears to be a game-time decision between Kwadra Griggs and Keon Howard. Griggs has been their main starter, but is dealing with an injury, and signs point to Howard being the starter this week.

Both are replacing four year starter Nick Mullens, and the Golden Eagles passing success rate has dipped to a 98thoverall national rank after being one of the best passing attacks in the G5 over the past few seasons.

Allenzae Staggers returns as a major playmaker in the passing game, and return game. Korey Robinson leads the Golden Eagles in receiving yards, and has 65.7 percent catch rate in 35 targets.

Defensively, one of Southern Miss’ most impressive stats is their defensive line havoc rate, matching up with UTEP’s offensive line. The Golden Eagles have racked up 10 total sacks, and 37 TFL’s, led by a pair of talented freshmen.

Freshman linebacker Racheem Boothe has four run stuffs, and 2.5 sacks, along with Jacques Turner who has 4.5 tackles for loss. Four different players have four or more tackles for loss and three of those four play on the defensive line.

On standard downs, offensive lines are only creating 1.5 yards per carry against Southern Miss who employs a radar pre-snap defensive alignment making it hard to identify blitzes and defensive line schemes.

Southern Miss also returns talented defensive back Curtis Mikell who has four run stuffs and is their third leading tackler from his corner spot.

UTEP’ offensive line has been solid over the past few weeks, pushing UTEP up the power success rate ranking as the Miners now sit 53rd nationally in that category.

Health in the backfield has been a recurring weekly issue as Quardraiz Wadley is questionable, and Ryan Metz is working his way back from a shoulder injury and is doubtful.

Zack Greenlee executed UTEP’s offense last week, but the Miners have been held scoreless on the offensive side in the past six quarters of second half football under new offensive coordinator Brian Natkin.

The Miner defense showed signs of life for the first time last weekend. UTEP’s first seven led by Alvin Jones was physical and productive. While Nik Needham turned in one of his best games in a Miner uniform at corner.

UTEP is looking to avoid their third straight loss to Southern Miss, and hope to end a lengthy losing streak and avoid a very possible 0-12 season.

Three competitive keys for UTEP

Contain Ito

Easier said than done, but I feel the major key is to slow down and contain Ito Smith. If Smith grabs chunk yards, Southern Miss will easily put 40 or more on the board. He’s so good it’s almost impossible, but keeping him under 80 yards, and a low per carry average will help the UTEP defense get off the field more often than not.

Limit penalties

Over the past two games, holding penalties have literally killed UTEP’s offense. Seems like over the past two games when UTEP generates a chunk play, it’s called back. For an offense like UTEP, that’s major suicide. If that improves, UTEP’s offense can finally be a factor in terms of sustaining drives and putting up points.

Special teams will have to be really special on the road

We might be talking about kickers, but generating momentum, big plays, and field position could become factors in this game via special teams. UTEP had a long punt return called back, and Terry Juniel looks be a factor in the return teams will have to prepare for going forward. Sound special teams on the road will help, and making a field goal or two will also help.

Prediction

UTEP’s defense showed major improvement against WKU, but will be tested against a tough and explosive run game this week.

I think the energy returns, but execution against a future NFL-er will be a huge task for the UTEP defense.

A low scoring first half thanks to a solid start by the UTEP defense turns into the Ito Smith show in the second half as the Miners just don’t have enough offense to keep up….

Southern Miss 41 UTEP 14