In the rear-view mirror

2013 November 20
by Don Hammack

USM announced today it would be playing Alabama in football next season. I suggest the Golden Eagles might consider renting out LSU players for a weekend. Hard to believe, in the midst of this streak of horrendous football, this happened 13 years ago. I remember the Bama call-in shows burning up with talk of hiring Jeff Bower away:



BIRMINGHAM, Ala — In a span of eight seconds Saturday night, the Giant Killers awoke.

No. 25 Southern Miss (1-1) stunned a Legion Field crowd of 83,091 with a pair of touchdowns in that time and went on to post a 21-0 victory over the 15th-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (1-2).

“I got tired of reading that (giant-killer) stuff, too,” USM coach Jeff Bower said. “It”s a big step for our program. There’s a lot of respect for this program and hopefully this will add to that.”

Quarterback Jeff Kelly, hobbled by an early injury to his leg, threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to LeRoy Handy 41 seconds into the second quarter.

The Golden Eagles, who had carried the giant-killer label long after the last time they’d actually beaten a nonconference Top 25 team, seized control of the game on the ensuing kickoff. A short kick was fielded near the left sideline by ‘Bama’s Michael James, a backup split end.

James started across the field but was caught from behind by USM’s Etric Pruitt. Pruitt clubbed at the ball as he made the tackle, knocking it loose. Joe Henley scooped the ball up at the 18-yard line and broke through Freddie Milons’ tackle at the 5, dragging him into the endzone.

Brant Hanna’s third PAT of the game gave the Bama faithful the cue to start booing.

Kelly was hurt initially on USM’s first possession when Alabama lineman Kenny King dove into his lower left leg. King got him again on Kelly’s scoring pass to Handy.

“They were going after it a little bit, I think,” Kelly said. “It’s just a little sprain.”

Kelly limped off the field dragging his leg and wound up making a visit to the locker room. He didn’t miss a snap, sprinting out of the tunnel in time to join the team during a TV timeout before its next possession.

Kelly’s mobility, the asset he’d used to great advantage in keeping Tennessee at bay two weeks prior, was vastly reduced.

“We’ve got a big play-action package,” Kelly said. “I couldn’t get out and move for that kind of stuff.”

Although he was sacked four times, the Deerpark, Ala., junior was 14-of-23 passing for 159 yards and a touchdown.

The Golden Eagles got the early jump as the Crimson Tide made an unsuccessful trip to the trick section of their playbook.

Arvin Richard started right on a sweep and pulled up.

He looked back across the field and tried to throw back to quarterback Tyler Watts, who had tried to sneak out of the backfield. Richard’s pass was a floater and Raymond Walls closed on Watts and went up for the interception.

He grabbed it at his own 46 with nothing but open field in front of him for a 7-0 USM lead with 5:24 to play in the first quarter.

The USM victory broke an eight-game on-the-field losing streak to the Tide (Alabama forfeited its 1993 win because of NCAA violations). It was also the first USM victory over a nationally ranked, nonconference opponent since a 10-9 victory over Auburn in 1991.

The Tide were shut out for the first time since a 27-0 thrashing by LSU on Nov. 8, 1997. The Golden Eagles accomplished the feat in large part by keeping Milons quiet.

Milons touched the ball on eight snaps from scrimmage, netting only 48 yards. His seven receptions were mostly on underneath routes where there was plenty of USM defensive support.

The Tide brought Andrew Zow off the bench to replace Watts in the fourth quarter. He was more effective running with the ball than throwing it, completing only 8-of-18 passes for 65 yards.

“We”ve got the pieces of the puzzle,” Alabama coach Mike DuBose said. “We lacked something here, something there. We have to put it together.”

Watts was 11-of-16 for 57 yards and Alabama finished with just 217 total yards.

USM’s wrecking crew defense featured strong play by Gulfport’s Cedric Scott and George County’s John Nix. Both defensive linemen were in the ‘Bama backfield for large portions of the night.

“We felt like we had to put the pressure on them early and keep it in them,” Scott said. “The coaches gave us a great plan and we went out and executed.”

The defense sealed the victory with 5:12 to play when Stone’s Keon Moore, a cornerback, tipped a Zow pass in the USM end zone back to linebacker Zaid Houston.

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