As Southern Miss trailed 14-7 in the third quarter, defensive back Malik Shorts came down with an interception that looked to shift momentum.
That would not be the case. Two plays later, quarterback Jake Lange fumbled and UTEP came up with a 63-yard scoop-and-score to give the Miners a two-score lead.
"It was the difference in the game," Southern Miss coach Will Hall said. "The sad thing about it is that if you watch the tape, it should have been a big gain for us. (The play) was there; Jake (Lange) read it right. It was an RPO [Jason] Brownlee won, and we didn't stay uphill and block the backside in. It should have been a big play for us, and it wasn't.
"We are just a really bad offensive football team right now. We just don't generate any consistency. We move the ball here or there. When there is a play to be made to get us over that hump, we don't make that play. That's on me."
Much like the play, Southern Miss' night was filled with its fair share of opportunities that the Golden Eagles never took advantage of in the 26-13 loss to UTEP on Saturday night.
The Golden Eagles received valiant play from both its defense and special teams. Notably, punt Mason Hunt averaged 51.7 yards per punt and pinned UTEP's offense inside its 15-yard line for four straight drives in the second half. However, any opportunity was squandered due to inefficient play from the offensive line.
"It's been well documented of all of our injuries at quarterback, which has changed things a lot," Hall said. "Couple that with a lot of issues with the o-line right now. We have had a lot of injures and moving parts."
In total, the offensive line gave up five sacks and 14 tackles for loss and was penalized six times for false starts. In two different instances, the Golden Eagle offensive line had two straight false start penalties on back-to-back plays. Eight of Southern Miss' 13 penalties (90 total penalty yards) were called on the offense.
"The things you build an offense around are quarterback and offensive line," Hall said. "We have no consistency in which who is playing quarterback. We have not had a lot of consistency upfront.
"A lot of (the penalties) were foolish. Most of them were offensive penalties with false starts. It's inexcusable. It's plagued us all year. We have got to get that fixed. We have got to find some consistency. We were inches tonight from that score being totally different."
Despite the inefficiencies, the first two drives of the game looked to indicate otherwise.
UTEP (5-1, 2-0) got on the board quickly after scoring on an 11-play, 62-yard drive that was capped off by running back Ronald Awatt scoring on a 17-yard run. Southern Miss (1-5, 0-2) answered back with Lange connecting on a 31-yard touchdown pass to Jason Brownlee, which led to the first quarter being tied at 7-7. Awatt finished the game with 154 rushing yards and a touchdown.
With 11 minutes left in the second quarter, Southern Miss' defense gave up a 51-yard pass. But the defense and UTEP missed a 32-yard field. The Golden Eagle offense went three and out after two false starts killed the momentum on the ensuing drive. UTEP then followed with a 53-yard touchdown run to take the lead 14-7.
Following the scoop-and-score at the start of the third quarter, Southern Miss drove the ball to UTEP's 3-yard line. On four straight runs, the Golden Eagles could not get into the end zone, including two failed quarterback keepers by injured quarterback Jack Walker.
"It was a bad deal by me," Hall said. "We have to get that in right there, and we have a chance. We are in the game until the very end if we can get that in. Jake's not a runner. He's a pocket passer. Jack can't throw. His hand is messed up. He's good under-center option quarterback his whole life. He's a physical guy and starts for us in special teams. We put him in and try to outnumber them with a quarterback run because we handed it to Frank twice with all of our tight ends in, and we didn't get much of a push there."
In the fourth quarter, the Miners built on their lead by sacking Lange in the end zone and forcing a safety and then, on the following drive, kicked a 38-yard field goal to push the lead 26-7.
On Southern Miss' final drive, Lange managed to orchestrate an 8-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in a 3-yard, toe-tapping touchdown reception to Demarcus Jones. Lange finished the night 20-of-31 and threw for 239 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The Golden Eagle offense posted 239 total offensive yards, with the run game only accumulating 15 rushing yards.
"We have to have everybody functioning and executing consistently," Hall said. "Right about the time we are about to do that, we self-destruct. We are playing hard on D. We are playing hard and pretty good. It's hard to consistently play on defense when you are not moving the ball and scoring on offense because those guys need hope too."
Next week, Southern Miss will host UAB with kickoff set for 2:30 p.m.