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Southern Miss shuts down UTEP 24-0

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

UTEP’s major offensive struggles continued Saturday night in Hattiesburg, and the Miners scoreless streak also continued in a 24-0 loss to Southern Miss.

UTEP has not scored an offensive touchdown in nine of the last ten quarters of football, as UTEP drops to 0-7 for second time in school history.

To break it down further, UTEP has not scored on offense in six straight quarters, and since Brian Natkin took over the offensive play calling UTEP has not scored in a second half in four games.

Southern Miss limited UTEP to just total yards 147 yards of offense on the night, and ended the night averaging 2.9 yards per play. The Miners picked up just six first downs, compared to 20 USM first downs.

UTEP running backs combined to rush for just 20 yards, making it the third time this season the Miners have been held to under 30 yards rushing this season. In the end UTEP ran for just 17 yards, gave up two sacks, and were shutout for the first time since 2012.

Looking at final stats alone, Southern Miss probably should have won 50-0, but the Miner defense started strong, and kept UTEP in the game until early in the fourth quarter thanks in large part to the full implosion of the Miner offense.

UTEP safety Devin Cockrell ended Southern Miss’ opening drive with a diving interception on a deep ball, but it didn’t take long for the Golden Eagles to find six on their next drive.

Howard threw a bomb up the right sideline to a streaking and wide open Jaylond Adams for a 52-yard catch and run with 8:26 left in the opening quarter to open the scoring.

USM out gained UTEP 207-33 in the opening 15 minutes, but the Miners forced another turnover to stall a promising Golden Eagle drive.

Keon Howard scrambled inside the UTEP 20-yard line but Alvin Jones delivered a hit that knocked the ball loose and it would be recovered by Sky Logan at the UTEP nine yard line.

Zack Greenlee would covert three straight third down conversions on the ensuing UTEP drive, but would stall after 10-plays and 50-yards as UTEP hung around in the second quarter.

The Miner defense strung together five straight stops from there, including a interception by UTEP safety Kahani Smith to end a short field drive by USM after they recovered a fumble on a would be UTEP punt return.

But after the interception, the UTEP offense continued to sputter and then completely fell part.

Kevin Dove would fumble on the very next play after the INT, USM recovered at the UTEP two yard line, and Ito Smith punched it in on the next play to make it 14-0 USM at halftime.

The Miners offense continue to self inflict, and put the UTEP defense in tough spots in the second half, while the defense continued to answer the bell.

UTEP held Southern Miss to just 15 total yards on their first two second half drives, while the UTEP offense could not sustain drives and Ito Smith put the nail in the coffin finishing off a scoring drive.

After UTEP punted for a second consecutive third quarter drive, Smith broke off a 20-yard touchdown to cap off a 13-play 80 yard scoring drive making it 21-0 USM with 10:39 left in the game.

Smith finished with 120 yards rushing and two touchdowns, leading a seven minute drive later in the fourth quarter to add a late field goal with three minutes left in the game.

Zack Greenlee started at quarterback for UTEP, but left early in the game with injury after going 5-for-10 passing 63 yards. Ryan Metz came on in relief and went 9-for-17 for 67 yards throwing an interception on the first drive of the second half.

UTEP turned it over twice on offense, once on special teams, but the UTEP defense forced three turnovers in a gritty defensive effort.

Howard finished the night 16-for-21 passing for 221 yards as the Golden Eagles ended the night with 423 yards of offense.

UTEP heads into their bye week win-less, and clueless in terms of an offensive identity with five more games left in the 2017 season.