USM looks for more offense
By By Stan Caldwell/EMG sports writer
October 19, 2002
HATTIESBURG It's time for Plan B at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Dustin Almond will get his first career start at quarterback Saturday as USM returns to the friendly confines of M.M. Roberts Stadium to face Cincinnati in a Conference USA game. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. Saturday, which is a change from the original kickoff time of 2 p.m.
Almond takes over the starting job from sophomore Micky D'Angelo, who started the first six games of the season for the Golden Eagles, but who was increasingly ineffective over the past three games.
USM (4-2, 2-0) lost two of those games, and the sputtering offense has had a lot to do with both defeats, as well as the closer-than-expected win at Army. Almond came in on USM's third possession last week in the 16-13 loss at South Florida, and played well, completing 24-of-39 passes for 258 yards and a touchdown, and he did not throw an interception.
Almond guided a 10-play, 72-yard drive from the USM 1-yard-line in the waning seconds against USF, completing 7-of-8 passes to put place-kicker Curt Jones in position to attempt a 43-yard field goal that would have tied the game at the end and sent it into overtime. However, Jones missed the kick just wide right.
The Golden Eagles need to do something to jump start their offense, because Cincinnati (2-4, 1-1) will bring a potent offense into Saturday's game. Bearcat sophomore quarterback Gino Guidugli leads C-USA in passing, averaging 288.6 yards passing per game.
For the year, Guidugli has completed 135 of 240 passes (56.2 percent) for 1,796 yards and 11 touchdown. He has, however, thrown 12 interceptions. Nevertheless, the Eagle defense will be geared up to stop Guidugli and a talented supporting cast that averages 418 yards a game.
Guidugli has been particularly good in the fourth quarter. In five of his 16 career starts for the Bearcats, he's directed come-from-behind victories.
UC has three of the top receivers in the league in LaDaris Vann, Jon Olinger and Tye Keith, and tailback DeMarco McCleskey is a talented, veteran running back. Vann leads C-USA with 43 receptions for 533 yards and four touchdowns, and McCleskey has picked up 511 yards rushing on 112 carries (4.6 yards per carry) and leads the Bearcats with seven touchdowns.
For the Golden Eagles, senior Derrick Nix continues to lead C-USA in rushing with a 124-yard per-game average. Nix has rushed for 744 yards on 115 carries (6.5 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns.
The Bearcats are coming off a disappointing 35-17 defeat at Tulane last week, and have lost two straight, so both teams are looking to reverse their recent fortunes.
The move to Almond at quarterback isn't the only major personnel change for Saturday's game. Starting tackle Jeremy Bridges will not play after being suspended for an unspecified violation of team policy. Also, starting nose tackle Skylor Magee is doubtful with a back injury.