TAMPA, Fla. -- UTEP is still on a streak of futility against Top 25 opponents, though Mike Price felt the Miners represented themselves well against No. 18 South Florida.
"We shouldn't be discouraged. They played better than we did, and maybe they're a better team than we are," Price said after Saturday night's 52-24 loss to the Bulls. "The score is that way because they were playing their guys quite a bit."
That's because the Miners (2-2) did enough offensively to remain within two touchdowns until USF (4-0) scored twice late.
"Their quarterback earns his scholarship, I tell you that. I think he's a tremendous player, a tremendous sportsman," Price said of the Bulls' B.J. Daniels. "I can tell that the way he never got rattled, even though we were hitting him pretty good at times. He's one tough player."
Daniels threw for 202 yards and ran for 130 as UTEP fell to 4-48 all-time against ranked opponents, including 1-31 on the road. They've lost 26 straight away from home against Top 25 teams since upsetting Arizona State in 1974. The Miners also fell to 0-21 against BCS conference members.
"We had some opportunities in the third quarter, and we didn't take advantage of it," Price said. "We didn't take advantage of the opportunities in the red zone offensively. We got athleted out in a couple of things, and then they're really good."
Daniels scored on a 71-yard run on the Bulls' second offensive play and threw touchdown passes of 54 and 18 yards to Lindsey Lamar in the second half. The junior's long TD burst was the fourth-longest in USF's relatively brief football history, and receiver Victor Marc's 67-yard scoring run later in the opening quarter was the fifth-longest.
"We put the ball in the end zone. That's the most important thing," Daniels said. "We have a lot of guys who can do different things."
Coach Skip Holtz had encouraging news on USF punt returner Terrence Mitchell, who was carted off the field in the fourth quarter after tackling UTEP punter Ian Campbell at the end of a 19-yard run on a fake.
The coach said Mitchell, who launched himself with head lowered and appeared to hit Campbell with his shoulder, did not suffer a neck injury.
"They're worried about a concussion. The injury doesn't appear to be as severe as it appeared on the field," Holtz said. "He's responding really positively right now."
Mitchell remained on the ground in front of the USF bench for several minutes while receiving medical attention. He was strapped to a stretcher as a precaution, carted off and taken to a nearby hospital.
"I definitely hope he's fine. ... I saw him. I wasn't going to try to juke him. I was just going to try to run right through him," Campbell said. "Unfortunately, I think he lowered his head a little too much and he caught my shoulder pad."
UTEP played without several key players sidelined with injuries, including starting quarterback Nick Lamaison, safety Travaun Nixon and defensive lineman Germard Reed.
Carson Meger, one of three quarterbacks who have started games for the Miners this season, completed 26 of 40 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns. The sophomore was intercepted three times, with the last returned 30 yards by linebacker Sam Barrington for the USF's final touchdown.
"Obviously, we came down here to play a game and win a game, and we didn't get that done. But they're a heck of a team," Meger said. "They're not ranked 18th in the nation for nothing. I thought we did some good things and some bad things. As a quarterback you always feel like you could do things a little bit better, but it just didn't happen for us."
Daniels, who completed 15 of 24 passes, led long TD drives on USF's first four possessions. Maikon Bonani kicked a 38-yard field goal the next time the Bulls got the ball, building a 31-14 lead.
UTEP wasn't quite as successful offensively, but the Miners did move the ball effectively against a USF defense that had been barely tested since yielding 508 yards during a 23-20 season-opening win at Notre Dame.
Leilyon Myers scored on a 4-yard run, Meger threw a 24-yard TD pass to Anthony McGhee to finish a nine-play, 88-yard march and Dakota Warren capped a 15-play, six-minute drive with a 24-yard field goal for UTEP, which gained 234 yards in the opening half and finished with 339.
Meger threw a 25-yard TD pass to Kevin Perry late in the third quarter.
"We hustled. We played very hard. We don't give up on our team, obviously," Price said. "I was very pleased with the job Carson Meger did for not having reps and being kind of our third-string guy going into the year."
A week after rolling up a Big East-record 745 yards of total offense during a 70-17 rout of Florida A&M, USA gained 575 -- 373 on the ground -- against UTEP, which expects Nixon (knee) and Reed (concussion) to return on defense for next week's Conference USA matchup against Houston.
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