Southern Miss welcomes UTEP for homecoming


Southern Miss celebrated a big win last week and hopes to celebrate again this week when it hosts UTEP in its 81st homecoming football game.

Last week, the Golden Eagles came from behind to beat previously undefeated UTSA 31-29 in San Antonio, Texas, in a game in which Keon Howard quarterbacked in place of the injured Kwadra Griggs.

This Saturday (6 p.m. game time, Stadium webstream), it may be Howard in the starting lineup or it may be Griggs, who injured his hand against North Texas on Sept. 30.

But whoever is the quarterback, Southern Miss (3-2 overall, 2-1 Conference USA) will be favored over UTEP (0-6 0-2). USM leads UTEP in practically every statistical category (except fumbles and fumbles lost).

But the Miners have a wild card. On Oct. 2, former UTEP coach Mike Price — the National Coach of the Year in 1997 and finalist in 2004 — was named interim coach after Sean Kugler resigned.

And last week, in Price’s first game back, UTEP lost to Western Kentucky, but only by one point, 15-14.

“If that doesn't get your attention, nothing will,” USM head coach Jay 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.”

Ironically, Price’s last victory — before he retired — came in 2012 at Hattiesburg when UTEP defeated Southern Miss 34-33. And he is 2-0 in his teams’ games at USM’s M.M. Roberts Stadium.

“We plan on winning this weekend,” Price said in a press conference earlier this week. “That's our goal. I think that we showed (last) Saturday night that we can compete in this league.”

Price, whose son Eric coached with Hopson at Memphis in 2010-11, took note of Howard’s play against UTSA.

“This kid played well,” Price said. “He played really well. Offensively, I think it's all about (Howard) and (Ito Smith), who is their tailback.”

Smith ran for 178 yards on 17 carries against UTSA and was named the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week. Smith now has three straight 100-yard games to his credit.

Hopson noticed the Miners’ quarterback, too.

“Their quarterback (Zack Greenlee) and their running backs (Quardraiz Wadley averages 90.3 yards per game) (are strong points),” Hopson said. “They run the ball well and their quarterback does a good job running their offense. They give you a lot of different personnel groupings. They’re very multiple on offensive. They make you work.

“Defensively they play hard. If you watch the Western Kentucky game from last week, they did a good job playing sound football. They made Western Kentucky work for everything.”

Although the Golden Eagles are big favorites in the game, Hopson said he would be glad to get out of the game with any kind of win.

“When you sit in this chair, you don’t care if it’s 98-97 or 2-0,” he said. “At the end of the day, you just want to pick up the W.”

USM’s homecoming parade will begin at 11 a.m. The Eagle Walk — with players, coaches, band and cheerleaders walking around part of the stadium — will start at 4 p.m.