USM, Alabama square off in key game

By By Stan Caldwell/EMG Sports Writer
September 21, 2002
Under a different set of circumstances, Derrick Nix would probably be preparing to suit up for the University of Alabama for Saturday's game against Southern Mississippi.
An all-state performer as a running back and linebacker at Etowah High in Attalla, Ala., Nix was heavily recruited by a number of big-name college programs, including not only Alabama, but Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech.
But those schools didn't see him as a tailback, so he turned his back on them and followed his older brother to USM, and the Golden Eagles are glad he did.
And so far, it's been a successful one for USM, which carries a 3-0 record into Saturday's contest against the Crimson Tide at Tuscaloosa, Ala. Saturday's game at Bryant-Denny Stadium kicks off at 6 p.m., and will be televised nationally over ESPN2.
However, for USM to get to 4-0 for the first time in 21 years will be a stiff challenge.
Alabama comes into this game 2-1, with victories over Middle Tennessee State and North Texas sandwiched around a 37-27 loss at Oklahoma.
Tucker and Nix will be two of the key players if the Golden Eagles are to pull off an upset. Tucker and the USM line have led Nix to 474 yards rushing and seven touchdowns so far this season. Nix's rushing average of 158.0 yards a game is second-best in the country.
When Nix first arrived at USM, he was known as Tyrone Nix's little brother. Tyrone had been a Golden Eagle standout at linebacker from 1990-93, then stayed around as an assistant coach. But now, Tyrone is known as Derrick's big brother.
Although every game is important, the Alabama game is a little special, particularly the 16 players on the Golden Eagle roster from the state of Alabama.
USM will need to shine as brightly as it can, because the Tide offers a stiff challenge on both sides of the football. Alabama averages 208.7 yards both rushing and passing per game, while allowing just 70.0 yards rushing and 199.7 yards passing per game.
Defensively, Tyrone Nix and his crew will have to gear up to stop the option, which the Crimson Tide will employ a good bit with quarterback Tyler Watts, who is their second-leading rusher with 152 yards.
USM will also have to be ready for just about anything from the Alabama special teams. Against OU, the Tide scored touchdowns on a blocked punt and a fake field goal, plus they successfully converted a surprise onside kick.
Two years ago, USM demolished the Tide 21-0 at Birmingham, but Bama earned a measure of revenge last season with a 28-15 victory in a game marked by stormy conditions.

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