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USM geared up for C-USA battle versus Louisville

By By Stan Caldwell / EMG Sports Writer
Nov. 14, 2002
HATTIESBURG From the moment the game was announced months ago, everyone associated with the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of Louisville has had today's date circled on their calendar
Tonight's the night for what both sides had hoped would be a deciding game for the Conference USA championship, but is still a hugely compelling contest, as the Golden Eagles and the Cardinals collide in a nationally-televised ESPN broadcast. Kickoff at M.M. Roberts Stadium is 6:30 p.m.
Losses to Texas Christian by both USM (6-3, 4-1) and Louisville (5-4, 3-2), plus last week's Cardinal loss to Cincinnati, have dimmed the luster of tonight's game somewhat, but don't tell the Eagles that it isn't still the game of the year.
Brooks, a 5-11, 175-pound junior from New Orleans, will be a big part of the Eagles' defensive game plan as they try to defend a Cardinal offense led by senior quarterback Dave Ragone.
Ragone is big, at 6-4, and rugged at 250 pounds. So far this season, he's completed 162 of 298 passes for 2,096 yards and 17 touchdowns with only six interceptions. He's also run for 400 yards, but he's also lost 217, mostly on 32 sacks that a young, injury-prone offensive line has allowed.
And if the Cardinals give Ragone any time, he can hurt you, as Golden Eagle fans know to their sorrow. Two years ago, in a nationally-televised homecoming game in Hattiesburg, Ragone threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two more in a 49-28 whipping that turned the C-USA tide in Louisville's favor.
Last year, the Eagles kept Ragone in check and were leading until the fourth quarter, when he took advantage of three USM turnovers in a 24-14 win that solidified the Cardinals' second consecutive league title.
USM enters the game off its best defensive performance of the season, a 20-13 victory at UAB on Saturday in which the Golden Eagles held the Blazers to 226 yards of offense.
Getting those points will be the job of an offense that came to life in the fourth quarter against UAB, under the direction of sophomore Micky D'Angelo, who came off the bench in the second half to replace Dustin Almond. D'Angelo completed 4 of 8 passes for 133 yards in guiding the Eagles to 10 points in the final period.
USM will confront a Louisville defense that has perhaps underachieved this season, allowing 24 points per game. But the Cardinals still possess a world of talent on defense, led by junior defensive end Dewayne White, who has eight sacks, 13 tackles for loss and an interception this season.
The Eagles' job will be a little easier if senior tailback Derrick Nix can play after missing the UAB game with a leg injury. As of Wednesday afternoon, Nix was scheduled to play, but his availability is still day-to-day.
If Nix can't go, sophomore James Walley will start, and, hopefully, will play up to the level he showed against UAB, when he ran 27 times for 100 yards and a touchdown.
One thing USM will have to be concerned with is its kicking game. Senior punter Mark Haulman has struggled the past two games, and Louisville is working on an six-game streak with at least one blocked punt, and has blocked eight for the season. Last week against Cincinnati, the Cardinals blocked a punt and returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
Although Bower insists that USM is approaching this game just like any other, the Eagles are well aware of who is coming in to town this week.