USM eyes key game at USF
By By Stan Caldwell / EMG Sports Writer
Oct. 12, 2002
HATTIESBURG Although Saturday's contest between the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of South Florida is not repeat, not a Conference USA game, it sure feels that way.
The Golden Eagles and the Bulls have competed briskly with each other for championships in every other C-USA sport since the league was founded in 1996, but not as yet in football.
However, that changes next season, when USF becomes a full, football-playing member, so USM players are already thinking of Saturday as a conference game. Kickoff at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., is at 6:05 p.m.
Much of the trash talk goes back to the first-ever meeting between the two schools, in 2000 at Hattiesburg. After the Golden Eagles' 41-7 victory, USF accused the Eagles of running up the score, while USM countered with claims of dirty play on the part of the Bulls.
One of the victims was Hicks, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on an extra-point play following a USM touchdown.
Others on the USM team, though, are not so diplomatic.
When the Eagles and the Bulls tee it up Saturday, USM (4-1 overall) will have had an extra week to prepare, having had an open date last week after the 27-6 win over Army on Sept. 28. USF (3-2) defeated North Texas last week, 24-17 at Denton, Tex.
That offense is in command of senior Marquel Blackwell, who leads the Bulls in passing and rushing. So far, he's completed 109 of 190 passes (57.4 percent) for 1,054 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions. USM coaches liken Blackwell, a 6-foot-1, 205-pounder, to former Tulane star Shaun King.
Offensively, USM spent the off week working on getting back to basics. That means the Bulls can expect to see a lot of Derrick Nix with the football.
Nix remains among the nation's rushing leaders, ranked 12th with 123.6 yards per game. If Nix is to succeed Saturday, then the Eagle line must step forward. After being the center of attention in USM's first three games, all easy wins, the line has not played as well in the two most recent games.
Increasingly, the line is looking to Hicks as its leader, and USM coaches say that's because of his play on the field.
USF comes into the game ranked 10th in the nation in total defense (279.0 yards per game) and 12th in the nation in rushing defense (94.6 yards per game). USM's defense is ranked sixth nationally in scoring (13.4 points per game) and 12th in pass defense (158.0 yards per game).