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USM's Bower pleased with effort of special teams

By By Stan Caldwell / EMG sports writer
Oct. 22, 2002
HATTIESBURG One week after pinning a good part of the blame on the special teams for a loss at South Florida, University of Southern Mississippi head coach Jeff Bower was equally generous with praise for that unit after Saturday's 23-14 victory over Cincinnati.
The victory lifted USM's record to 5-2 overall and kept the Golden Eagles on top in Conference USA with a 3-0 record.
Bower also singled out the defense for praise, although the amount of yardage the Bearcats picked up in the game was a concern. Cincinnati had 409 yards of offense against the Golden Eagles, but the USM defenders came up with the key plays and were tough, as always, in the red zone.
The USM defense bottled up the Bearcats in the fourth quarter, after safety Etric Pruitt's interception return for a touchdown gave the Eagles a 21-14 lead early in the period, then tacked on a safety after Mark Haulman's next-to-last punt was downed at the Cincinnati 3.
For the game, Haulman kicked nine times for a 43.3 yard average, and dropped four inside the Cincinnati 20.
The success of the defense and special teams overcame a mediocre performance by the USM offense. Redshirt freshman Dustin Almond struggled in his first collegiate start, completing just 7 of 22 passes. But he did have a touchdown and he did not throw an interception.
The area that most concerned Bower and the USM coaching staff was the Eagles' inability to convert on third down. USM was 1 of 11 on third downs, and were 0 for 7 in the second half against South Florida.
The Golden Eagles face an unusual scheduling problem in the next few days as they prepare for the Oct. 30 game at Texas Christian. Because that game is on a Wednesday, Bower said the Eagles will gear their practice schedule to more closely replicate their usual weekly schedule.
The Horned Frogs have won six straight games since a season-opening overtime loss at Cincinnati, and are 3-1 in C-USA after whipping Louisville 45-31 on Saturday.
TCU's win on Saturday was a definite attention-getter, Bower said, and while their offense is impressive, he's just as concerned with what he's seen of the Horned Frogs on defense. The statistics bear out Bower's concern. TCU has intercepted 11 passes, forced 14 fumbles and recorded 21 sacks so far this season.
The Golden Eagles continue to be relatively free of injuries. Tailback Derrick Nix will be held out of the early portion of this week's practices with minor ankle and shoulder injuries, and nose tackle Skylor Magee reinjured his back Saturday and is questionable.
In another development, Bower announced that freshman Tootie Myers has been dismissed from the team for an unspecified violation of team rules. Myers was trying to make the transition back to football after several years in professional baseball and had played sparingly this season.
Center Jim Hicks earned Offensive Player of the Week honors. The former Philadelphia High star played 56 snaps, graded 90 percent and had six cut blocks.
USM named John Eubanks as Special Teams Player of the Week, after returning two kickoffs for 57 yards. Haulman earned similar honors for C-USA.