Southern Miss heads into Saturday’s game against UTEP as a heavy favorite, but it’s not at the point where the Golden Eagles can take any game for granted.
UTEP (3-4, 1-2) has some confidence after beating Florida Atlantic 27-17 last week while USM (5-3, 3-1) is coming off back-to-back convincing wins over UTSA and Charlotte.
If USM wins Saturday, it’s nearly certain to receive a bowl bid.
Here are five things to watch for as the Golden Eagles take on the Miners:
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1. Mack’s back: UTEP quarterback Mack Leftwich had his best game yet last week against FAU. He threw for 270 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. UTEP coach Sean Kugler said he “took the cuffs off” Leftwich Saturday.
2. No Aaron: Junior running back Aaron Jones is the Miners’ best player, but he’s lost for the season with an ankle injury. UTEP is relying on multiple players to fill his shoes. LaQuinton Dowell ran 15 times for 73 yards and Jeremiah Laufasa had 18 carries for 71 yards a week ago.
3. How’s Ito?: USM sophomore running back Ito Smith missed a few snaps after taking a hit Saturday at Charlotte. He seemed fine, but he never quite got going with eight carries for 16 yards. We’ll see how he responds Saturday.
4. Can USM capitalize?: The UTEP defense has given up an average of 476.7 yards total this season. The USM offense should be set up for another big day Saturday.
5. Stuffing the run: The UTEP offense is built on a good ground game and has to have success there to have a chance to win. The potential return of defensive tackle Quincy Russell should help out USM in that area.