Southern Miss hosts Big 10 opponent
By By Stan Caldwell/EMG sports writer
September 7, 2002
HATTIESBURG The stage is set for the University of Southern Mississippi.
Today, the Golden Eagles have a big opportunity to showcase their program in front of a national television audience against a "name" team, when the University of Illinois comes to M.M. Roberts Stadium for an ESPN2 broadcast beginning at 11 a.m.
The Fighting Illini bring in a team that won the Big Ten championship last season and advanced to the Sugar Bowl. However, they are coming off a 33-20 upset loss to Missouri last week in their season opener, and that defeat worries the USM coaches.
USM won its season opener last week, defeating Jackson State 55-7. That game marked the first collegiate start for sophomore Micky D'Angelo, who completed 13-o- 23 passes for 273 yards and a touchdown. However, USM knows this will be a different ball game.
Klenakis said the Illini are very similar on defense to Penn State, another Big Ten team, which defeated the Golden Eagles 38-20 last season.
The Eagles are especially wary of the Illini secondary, especially cornerbacks Eugene Wilson and Christian Morton.
This is only the second meeting between the two schools. USM trounced the Illini 24-7 in 1997 at Champaign, Ill., in head coach Ron Turner's debut at Illinois. Turner's team finished 0-11 that season, but ever since, he's brought the Illini back to prominence.
Turner knows his team has its work cut out for it against the Golden Eagles. After watching his team lose last week, a trip to face USM is probably the last thing he wants this week, but he says the potential rewards make it worthwhile.
Offensively, Illinois has seven starters back, but Turner is still trying to find someone at quarterback to replace the departed Kurt Kittner, a four-year starter who was All-Big Ten last season. Junior Dustin Ward earned the start last week over fellow junior Jon Beutjer, but both played against Missouri.
That means the Golden Eagles will look to put pressure up the middle on passing plays, but Nix cautions that the Illini have a solid running game, led by senior Antoineo Harris, who ran 17 times for 66 yards last week.
Like USM, Illinois excels in the kicking game. The Illini blocked seven kicks last season (three punts, two field goals and two extra-points), and picked up right where they left off, blocking a field goal and an extra-point against Missouri. In addition, Wilson is an exceedingly dangerous kick returner.
Last week, USM set a new attendance record when 35,169 showed up for the JSU game. Bower says the quality of this week's opponent makes it crucial that another big crowd come out to support the Eagles.