Golden Eagles look to bounce back
By By Stan Caldwell / EMG sports writer
Oct. 15, 2002
HATTIESBURG University of Southern Mississippi head football coach Jeff Bower didn't mince words about his team's 16-13 defeat Saturday at the hands of South Florida.
Indeed, special teams play made the difference in a close ballgame. USF (4-2) finished with 170 yards in returns to just 90 for USM (4-2), mostly on the play of return ace DeAndrews Rubin.
Rubin's 50-yard punt return in the first quarter set up the first of three Santiago Gramatica field goals, and Rubin's 39-yard return in the fourth quarter set up the Bulls for a 27-yard drive for the winning touchdown.
The game ended, fittingly, with a final special teams failure by USM, when Curt Jones missed a 43-yard attempt at a game-tying field goal.
The Eagles did what they had to do over the weekend to digest the loss to USF and put it behind them as they prepare for Saturday's Conference USA game against Cincinnati.
The Bearcats bring a record of 2-4 overall and 1-1 in C-USA play into Saturday's Homecoming contest at M.M. Roberts Stadium. UC was a 35-17 upset loser Saturday at Tulane for its second consecutive loss, but the Eagles will concern themselves more with their own problems than those of Cincinnati.
USM will spend the week in practice polishing up the game of quarterback Dustin Almond, who came on in the first quarter, and now appears to have supplanted Micky D'Angelo as the starter. Almond completed 24-of-39 passes for 258 yards and a touchdown against the Bulls.
Bower and his staff were particularly impressed with Almond's performance in guiding the Eagles from the shadows of their own goal 72 yards to get Jones in position for the potential tying field goal.
USM also got good work from senior tailback Derrick Nix, who ran 21 times for 126 yards, and the Eagles as a team rang up 412 yards of offense. But they only had 13 points to show for it on the scoreboard.
The Golden Eagles will also work to shore up a defense that allowed a season-high 464 yards. Junior Ronald Jones made his first start Saturday at defensive end, moving from a backup tackle spot, and defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix hinted at other personnel changes to come.
Middle linebacker Rod Davis did have another stellar game, winning Defensive Player of the Week honors after getting credit for 15 tackles, three assists and a fumble recovery. Safety Etric Pruitt added 11 tackles and also recovered a fumble.
USM came out of the South Florida game without injury, although starting defensive tackle Skylor Magee did not play because of a bad back and is uncertain for the Cincinnati game.