Golden Eagles stomp Miners in conference opener

Adrian Broaddus, Sports Editor

UTEP head coach Sean Kugler and his troops had seven days to scratch off the embarrassing 66-14 loss to Army. However, after a week of practice, it did not seem like anything significant was patched up. In front of an abysmal 21,000 fans, the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles came into the Sun Bowl and made the Miners look unprepared, defeating them 34-7.
There was hope at the 6:00 mark during the first quarter when standout running back Aaron Jones broke away with a 68-yard run for a touchdown. At this point, the Miners led for the first time in a game since they faced New Mexico State on Sept. 3.

That was not only the last time in the game the Miners held a lead, but also the only time they scored against the Golden Eagles. Southern Miss responded with 34 unanswered points for the remainder of the game.

“We are inept on offense; we had way too many three-and-outs,” Kugler said. “We didn’t run the ball effectively. I thought the defense competed hard. We have a lot of things to fix offensively. We can’t win that way.”

It was a tale of missed opportunities that resulted in the Golden Eagles capitalizing on the Miners’ offensive mistakes. In the second quarter, quarterback Zack Greenlee threw a rocky pass into territory, which was tipped and intercepted. The pick by the Golden Eagles led to a touchdown right before halftime, and Southern Miss led 24-7. When it started to look like a competitive game after a fumble recovery by corner Justin Rogers, Greenlee threw another interception in the endzone, which resulted in a 100-yard interception for a touchdown by Curtis Mikell of Southern Miss. Even after a fumble recovery off a punt that placed the Miners’ offense within the 40-yard line of the Golden Eagles, the Miners could not getting anything going offensively and turned the ball over on downs.

“We will reevaluate every position—whether it be Greenlee or Metz,” Kugler said. “We’ve got problems we need to fix. We’re going to get back in this.”

Bottom line is, Jones cannot do it all. The ball-hauler rushed 16 different carries for 136 yards, but the one-dimensional offense was too reliant on him throughout the game and could not establish even a spark of passing play. Greenlee finished the first half with only 21 passing yards, 62 for the game, with two crucial interceptions and no touchdowns. Ryan Metz was placed in the game when the score already was out of hand.

And, to top it off, Kugler mentioned that Jones finished the game injured with an apparent ankle injury.

“Aaron hurt his ankle, to the extent I don’t know,” Kugler said. “It was a physical game where some guys got banged up.”

He also included Darrin Laufasa and Derron Gatewood in the jumble of players who were hurt in the game.

Southern Miss wore down the physical UTEP defense with 202 rushing yards and 176 passing yards. Quarterback Nick Mullens threw three touchdowns to three different receivers.

Next, the Miners will travel to Louisiana Tech to continue conference play on Saturday, Oct. 1.

“I’ve been through it many times before,” Kugler said. “Sometimes you need to go back to go back to the bare minimum. We need to trim down the offense and start from the basics.

Adrian Broaddus may be reached at [email protected]