Football Shuts Out UTEP 24-0 for Homecoming
HATTIESBURG, Miss. -
Earlier this week, Southern Miss football coach Jay Hopson said he wasn't concerned with variable numbers as long as they added up to one constant: Victory.
And that's exactly what Hopson got Saturday night, as the Golden Eagles shut down and then shut out UTEP 24-0 before 21,790 at M.M. Roberts Stadium.
Southern Miss (4-2, 2-1 Conference USA) won consecutive games for the second time this season as the Miners (0-7, 0-3) were shut out for the first time since 2102.
"We played real well, particularly on defense," Hopson said. "It was a good effort. We struggled at times, but we certainly came up with some big plays and had a nice drive in the fourth quarter.
"We had some opportunities early to really go up, but we had a penalty then and a turnover and that kind of stalemated us a little. Hard-fought win, and we are certainly glad to get it."
Southern Miss' offense certainly did its share, rolling up 423 yards total offense, including a balanced 202 yards rushing and 221 yards passing.
But it was the Golden Eagles' defense that laid the base and then cemented the victory over UTEP.
It was Southern Miss' first shutout of a Football Bowl Subdivision program since the Golden Eagles defeated UAB 3-0 in 2001. It also marked the third shutout of Jay Hopson's 19-game tenure as Southern Miss head coach.
The shutout also was the second in five games this season following the Golden Eagles' 45-0 blanking of Southern University on Sept. 9. The last time Southern Miss logged two shutouts in a season: 1999, when the Golden Eagles blanked the United States Military Academy (24-0) and University of Louisiana-Lafayette (45-0).
"It means a lot and feels good to know that we executed at practice and did everything that was told to us," defensive end LaDarius Harris said. "They tried to run the ball a lot on us and those are the kind of games I love and look forward to."
Running back Ito Smith posted his fourth consecutive game with at least 100 yards rushing, running for 120 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. It marked the fifth consecutive game Smith had scored at least one touchdown, and was the second time this season he had run for two scores.
"It sure didn't feel like it," said Smith, who wasn't aware of his feat until he was doing a postgame radio interview. "It's been a long ride."
Sophomore quarterback Keon Howard started for a second consecutive week and completed 16 of 27 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown. He also threw a pair of interceptions and lost a fumble in the first half.
Howard's touchdown pass went for 52 yards to wide-open freshman Jaylond Adams, who hauled in the first score of his Southern Miss career for a 7-0 lead.
"The cornerback and safety ran into each other," Adams said. "It was like a roll-up route, and I ran behind the outside receiver, so when they ran into each other, I was wide open."
Adams also grabbed a 52-yard pass in the fourth quarter as he recorded the first 100-game of his career with two catches for 104 yards.
Smith scored on a 2-yard run 41 seconds before halftime at the end of a sequence that saw the exchange of the football on three straight plays.
Southern Miss defensive back Justin Abston recovered a muffed punt at UTEP's 33-yard line with 1:02 left in the first half, only to see Howard intercepted at the 2-yard line five seconds later.
But Harris stripped UTEP running back Kevin Dove coming out of the end zone and defensive back defensive back Kelsey Douglas recovered the fumble at the 2-yard line.
Smith's run put Southern Miss up 14-0 at the break.
Southern Miss finally put the game away in the fourth quarter, when Smith gained 47 yards on five carries during an 80-yard drive that he capped with a 20-yard run.
Adams' second long catch set up a season-long 38-yard field goal by junior Parker Shaunfield.
The Golden Eagles will visit Louisiana Tech (3-3, 1-1) at 6 p.m. Saturday in Ruston, La. The Bulldogs had an open week.