HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - After a disappointing home loss last week, The University of Southern Mississippi will be looking to get back its football mojo with the start of the so-called "second season."
The Golden Eagles (2-1) open Conference USA play against the University of Texas-El Paso (1-2) Saturday evening at Sun Bowl Stadium.
"You hope so," USM coach Jay Hopson said. "That's what you're counting on as a football team. Sometimes, the errors or mistakes you make are amplified in a loss. When you win, you can cruise through it. (Mistakes) become evident when you look at them in losses. "
The Golden Eagles' mistakes were quite evident on the scoreboard at Roberts Stadium, where three turnovers, a failed fake punt and a botched punt snap led to 27 points by the Troy University in the Trojans' 37-31 victory.
USM hoped it cleaned up a performance that included:
- A 5-of-18 performance on third-down conversion opportunities. Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said of the eight passes USM dropped, five came on third-down plays.
- Two more interceptions by quarterback Nick Dawson, giving him six through the season’s first three games.
- Allowing Troy running back Jordan Chunn to bull his way to 1776 yards and a touchdown on 36 carries.
"Mistakes occur and they happened to us," Hopson said. "We had our fair share of them. We almost found a way to overcome it, but those are thing we've got to clean up. Our job as a football team is to get better."
And to start conference play on the right foot.
After a win over New Mexico State in its season opener, UTEP has dropped consecutive games at then-No. 11 Texas and to visiting Army. In the two losses, the Miners have been outscored 105-21.
Saturday's matchup will feature two of C-USA's top rushers.
UTEP running back Aaron Jones leads the conference by averaging 146.3 rushing yards a game, running for 439 yards and four touchdowns on 60 carries. He averages 7.3 yards a carry.
USM defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro said the Miners will present another challenge, lining up and trying to knock the Golden Eagles off the ball.
"They're a little different than what we've seen," USM defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro said. "We've seen a lot of spread, where they're going to go with different personnel groupings, two tight ends or a tight end and fullback."
USM running back Ito Smith ranks right behind Jones, averaging 144 rushing yards a game, running for 432 yards and four touchdowns on 64 carries. Smith averages 6.8 yards a carry.
Mullens ranks fourth in C-USA , averaging 245.7 passing yards a game. Mullens has thrown for 737 yards and six touchdowns, completing 58 of 100 passes with six interceptions.
UTEP ranks 12th among C-USA's 13 teams in passing offense, averaging 156 yards a game through the air.
The Miners will be facing the conference's top defense and top passing defense in USM.
The Golden Eagles are the only team in the league allowing less than 300 yards total offense a game (253 yards) and are giving up 155 yards per game through the air.
The Miners rank 10th in the conference in total defense, allowing 453 yards a game. Skewed somewhat by Army's ground-based, triple option offense that rang up 424 yards rushing, UTEP has allowed an average 244.7 rushing yards a game.
Pecoraro said he expects the Golden Eagles to bounce back.
"I think they're hungry to get back," he said. "It ain't no fun to lose."
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