HATTIESBURG, MS. – Ito Smith rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns, spoiling a solid performance by the UTEP defense as Southern Miss shut out the Miners, 24-0, on Saturday night at M.M. Roberts Stadium.
The Miners (0-7, 0-3 C-USA) allowed 286 yards through three quarters before finally wearing down in the final period, when Southern Miss (4-2, 2-1 C-USA) scored the game’s final 10 points.
The Miners finished with six first downs and 147 yards of offense.
“Southern Miss is a good team,” UTEP interim head coach Mike Price said. “Their back is really good. I thought he did a nice job for them. We were just awful on offense.”
The Golden Eagles got on the board with 8:26 remaining in the first quarter when Keon Howard threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to Jaylond Adams.
After that, the defense stepped up and limited Southern Miss to 102 yards on its next five drives. The Miners also forced a season-high three turnovers in the first half as Devin Cockrell and Kahani Smith picked off passes, and Sky Logan recovered a fumble.
But the defense was put in a precarious position when Kevin Dove fumbled at the UTEP one-yard line in the final minute of the half. On the next play, Smith plowed into the end zone for his first score (two yards) and the Golden Eagles were up 14-0 at the midway point.
“I thought in the first half we were really off,” Price said. “Offensively, obviously, we were off the whole game. That was hard for anyone to take.”
The defense continued to shine in the third quarter but finally broke in the final period, when Southern Miss completed a 13-play, 80-yard drive with a 20-yard touchdown run by Smith. Later, the Golden Eagles tacked on a 38-yard field goal by Parker Shaunfield.
Zack Greenlee started at quarterback for the Miners and completed 5-of-10 passes for 63 yards before getting injured. His replacement, Ryan Metz, finished 9-of-17 passing for 67 yards with an interception.
UTEP wasn’t able to get the ground game percolating as it gained 17 yards on 22 carries. Terry Juniel led the Miners in the passing attack with five catches for 46 yards. Juniel also had a couple of kickoff returns for 75 yards with a long of 38.
Southern Miss quarterback Howard threw for 221 yards, completing 16-of-27 passes with a TD and two interceptions. Adams tallied 104 yards on a pair of receptions.
Southern Miss recorded 423 yards of offense, with 303 coming on four drives (40 plays). The rest of the night, the Golden Eagles managed 120 yards on 32 plays.
Alvin Jones led the Miners with 10 tackles. Devin Cockrell, Dante Lovilotte, Dylan Parsee and Smith added six tackles apiece.
“A lot of kids stepped it up [on defense],” Price said. “Man, at times our defense just played wonderful. They never gave up the whole game and just gave everything they’ve got.”
The Miners have their bye week coming up and will return to action in the Sun Bowl on Saturday, Oct. 28 against UTSA. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. MT.