Miners Defense Plucks the Golden Eagles in 35-14 UTEP Win
Two interceptions, both returned for touchdowns. Crunching tackles. Pressure defense.
Yeah, you're reading that correctly. UTEP. The school that used to play matador defense is now fastening that red cape around its collar.
It's not quite to Superman level yet, but in their 35-14 win over Southern Miss Saturday, the Miners didn't let the Golden Eagles on the scoreboard until the third quarter. Coupled with the 34-0 blanking of UTSA, that made for six quarters of shutout football.
And whatever positive effect the touchdown had for the Golden Eagles' was immediately negated by a 98-yard kickoff return for six by Autrey Golden.
Who knows if there might have been more? Golden only had two other chances to bust one, including the opening kickoff. Because of that stifling Miners defense.
UTEP is now 5-3 and on the verge of bowl eligibility. After going 2-10 in 2013, the five wins and the way the Miners have gone about earning them qualifies as a huge turnaround for head coach Sean Kugler in just his second season as a head coach.
USM had only that one offensive touchdown in the game. The other came off the return of a blocked field goal attempt, the only black mark on a solid effort by UTEP's special teams.
Certainly, seeing two backup quarterbacks in two games has helped, but USM was led by senior Cole Weeks who threw for 309 yards.
Time after time, the Miners were able to get Southern Miss into the third and long situations, allowing defensive coordinator Scott Stoker to throw even more fuel on the fire with blitzes that forced Weeks into some poor decisions.
Certainly, the UTEP offense sputtered. After moving Golden to receiver and using him to great effect, Jameill Showers only found the playmaker once Saturday night. His leading receiver was RB Aaron Jones with three catches. No other receiver had more than one.
But six shutout quarters? Not just wanting to get to a quarterback, but doing so? Helping out the offense with two pick-sixes?
It's no fluke. It's actually pretty super.