Southern Miss braces for road trip to UTEP

By David Brandt/The Associated Press

Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora isn’t sure there’s anything left to say.

His Golden Eagles have been in position to contend for the Conference USA title every season since he arrived in Hattiesburg, Miss., four years ago, and in the past, they’ve always found a way to mess it up.

Another opportunity is here. And Fedora knows grandiose speeches and bulletin-board material aren’t going to accomplish his program’s goals.

“You’re either going to do it or you’re not,” Fedora said. “You either want to be special, you want to be different and do things differently than everybody else or you just want to be like everyone else.”

The way Southern Miss (6-1, 2-1 C-USA) has played over the past few weeks would indicate that this team is indeed special. The Golden Eagles beat Virginia and Navy on the road before last week’s dominant 27-3 home victory over Southern Methodist. The schedule sets up favorably to make a run to the C-USA title game, where Southern Miss would likely meet Houston and star quarterback Case Keenum.

But the Golden Eagles must take care of business over the next five weeks. And it starts with a road trip to Texas-El Paso (4-3, 1-2) on Saturday.

Fedora said he’s concerned about a letdown after the emotional homecoming victory over SMU and that he’s leaning on his senior leadership, including quarterback Austin Davis, to make sure the Golden Eagles are ready to play.

“I don’t think any team in the country plays at the highest level they possibly can for 12 weeks in a row,” Fedora said. “The key is we’ve got to be better than UTEP on Saturday. We don’t have to be better than the Dallas Cowboys.”

UTEP has proven it’s far from a pushover and rides a two-game winning streak into Saturday’s game. The Miners’ top two running backs — Joe Banyard and Vernon Frazier — are both averaging nearly eight yards per carry.

“UTEP’s got a great backfield,” Southern Miss linebacker Jeremy Snowden said. “They’ve got three or four guys who run it really well. We’ve got to play assignment football and fill our gaps.”

It’ll be a tough test for the Southern Miss defense, which has fought injuries throughout the season. Snowden, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior, moved into the starting lineup after the team’s most productive linebacker, Korey Williams, was lost for the season in September because of a knee injury.

This will be the second high-octane offense UTEP coach Mike Price has seen over the past month. The Miners nearly pulled off an upset against Houston before losing 49-42 on Sept. 29.

Price said the Southern Miss offense is just as effective, though it relies more heavily on the run game. The Golden Eagles average 209.1 rushing yards — tops in Conference USA.

“We have to stop their run, but they don’t do it with just one back,” Price said. “They do it with a great offensive line and a quarterback who can change things up. It’s hard to disrupt their tempo. You just fight for your life and get lined back up at your position. We have to practice it a lot this week. It’s hard to simulate their speed-up offense in practice.”

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