Southern Miss aiming for bowl eligibility

Published 1:00 pm Friday, November 23, 2018

The Southern Miss Golden Eagles will head to the high desert of West Texas picking turkey out of their teeth and, hopefully, a bowl bid from the jaws of defeat.

The Golden Eagles (5-5, 4-3 Conference USA) face hapless UTEP (1-10, 1-6) on Saturday needing one more win to become bowl-eligible for the fourth season in a row and the 22nd time in 25 seasons.

A win would help salvage an up-and-down season in which Southern Miss has won three of its last five games, while losing the other two by three points each.

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“We’re never going to put the cart in front of the horse. We’ve got to go to work,” Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson said. “I think our guys are working hard. I think we’re playing our best football right now, I really do. We need that to continue.”

Southern Miss’ last four games have all been decided by three points or less, including last week’s 21-20 victory over Louisiana Tech.

UTEP figures to be a pushover. The Miners haven’t had a winning record since 2014, are 1-22 over the past two seasons, and are two-touchdown underdogs for this game.

UTEP lost 40-16 at Western Kentucky last week, as its quarterbacks threw four interceptions in the team’s first nine plays and fell behind 40-0 at halftime. The Miners did put up more than 300 yards of offense in the second half, however.

“We play much better when we’re aggressive on defense. So, we need to give our defense a chance,” UTEP coach Dana Dimel said during his weekly press conference. “We showed again with 335 yards of offense in the second half that we can be explosive offensively, even with some of the issues that we’re dealing with on our offensive line. We played a good second half of football. Now we want to move forward and to play four (good) quarters of football in the Southern Miss game.”

UTEP is rotating between two quarterbacks, Brandon Jones and Kai Locksley. It’s a situation the Golden Eagles can empathize with.

Sophomore Jack Abraham returned last week after missing the previous three games with an injury. In his absence, true freshman Tate Whatley played well and has also earned playing time.

Whatley started against Louisiana Tech and was 2-for-2 passing for 31 yards. He added 15 rushing yards on seven carries. Most of Whatley’s passing yardage came on a 28-yard completion to Quez Watkins in the fourth quarter that set up the game-winning touchdown.

Abraham lined up at wide receiver for the first play in a gimmick formation, and then saw most of the playing time at quarterback as the game unfolded. He was 24-of-29 for 195 yards and a touchdown.

Hopson seemed to indicate that he would continue to employ some version of a two-quarterback system, with Abraham getting the majority of the snaps and Whatley spotting in for a change of pace.

“They complimented each other really well,” Hopson said. “Jack had some good throws, but still has to secure the ball. He and Tate did a good job. Tate had a nice big throw to Quez there in the fourth quarter and did a good job. They’re a good one-two punch.”

• Saturday, 2 p.m.
• Radio: 105.5 FM
• TV: None. The game will be streamed on ESPN Plus

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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