Southern Miss

Mike Price’s UTEP squad looks to spoil Southern Miss homecoming

Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson and his team will look to avoid disappointment on homecoming vs. UTEP Saturday.
Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson and his team will look to avoid disappointment on homecoming vs. UTEP Saturday. Special to the Sun Herald

The last time Mike Price won a football game as the UTEP head coach took place on Nov. 17, 2012, at Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg.

Even though USM was 0-11 at that point and finished 0-12 in Ellis Johnson’s lone season as head coach, Price said he felt like his team had just beaten the Green Bay Packers after the 34-33 victory.

If Price believed his team faced a daunting task back in 2012 at USM, this Saturday’s game for the 71-year-old interim head coach must feel like he’s been preparing to take on 1972 Miami Dolphins.

USM (3-2, 1-1) plays host to a winless UTEP team (0-6, 0-2) for homecoming at 6 p.m. on Saturday.

Price is in his second game as the interim head coach at UTEP following the resignation of Sean Kugler on Oct. 1. The Miners are a 23-point underdog headed into Saturday’s game, but the always upbeat Price was looking forward to another trip to Hattiesburg.

“It’s an exciting place to play,” Price said Monday. “It’s a lot of fun down there.”

Price is 48-62 as UTEP head coach after previously serving in the role from 2004-12. He is 177-184 overall in his coaching career after lengthy stints at Washington State and Weber State.

Price admitted this week to local media in El Paso that he’s still finding his way around after coaching his last game at UTEP in 2012.

“I probably know you guys better than I do the team,” Price said. “I’m glad they have names on the jerseys and that helps.”

After a humbling start to the season, UTEP has played better football in recent weeks, losing 35-21 at Army and 15-14 to Western Kentucky over the last two games.

USM head coach Jay Hopson pointed to the tight contest against WKU as reason to believe his team will be in for a hard-fought battle Saturday night.

“If that doesn’t get your attention, nothing will,” Hopson said. “We know we have a good football team coming to town and we have to be prepared.

“They have our utmost respect. We understand we have another tough Conference USA game and we have to get ready.”

UTEP struggles on O

As has been customary with Kugler-coached UTEP teams, the Miners should mostly keep the ball on the ground behind a big offensive line.

UTEP’s leading rusher, Quardraiz Wadley, is uncertain for Saturday’s game with a knee injury, according to the El Paso Times. He has 54 carries for 271 yards and one touchdown this season.

If Wadley is out, Kevin Dove will likely be the primary ball carrier. He has 37 carries for 148 yards.

Zach Greenlee played quarterback last week with usual starter Ryan Metz still working his way back from a separated shoulder. Greenlee has completed 35 of 60 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns with one interception this season.

UTEP has one of the worst offenses in the nation this season, averaging 14.3 points a contest. The defense is allowing 40.2 points a game.

Howard to start

Hopson has settled on sophomore Keon Howard as his starting quarterback for Saturday’s game while redshirt junior Kwadra Griggs continues to recover from an injury to his left hand.

Howard completed 15 of 20 passes for 212 yards in the 31-29 win at UTSA last week. He also ran 10 times for 29 yards.

No matter who has played quarterback for USM this season, the team has managed to avoid the big mistake in the passing game. As a team, USM has completed 93 of 167 passes for 1,321 yards, 11 touchdowns and one interception.

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333, @Patrick_Magee

Game plan

Who: UTEP vs. Southern Miss

When: 6 p.m., Saturday

Where: Roberts Stadium, Hattiesburg

TV: Stadium

Radio: 104.9 FM