USM-Bama future uncertain
By By Stan Caldwell s/ EMG sports writer
Sept. 23, 2002
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. Saturday night's clash between the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of Alabama marked the 11th straight season the two schools have met on the football field.
But the future of the series is uncertain. The current contract between the schools expires after the 2005 season, and there has been no decision on whether to renew the series after that season.
USM would certainly like to continue playing the Crimson Tide, as it is a big source of revenue for the school's perennially-strapped athletic budget. But some USM fans would like to see a more equitable arrangement, particularly where game officials are concerned.
Among the issues that may come up in negotiations, besides whether to use Southeastern Conference officials, as is the case now, are the financial payoffs, and the possibility of Alabama making an appearance in Hattiesburg.
Golden Eagle head coach Jeff Bower is one person associated with USM that likes the series, although he didn't like the outcome of Saturday's game, a 20-7 whipping by the Crimson Tide.
Saturday's win gave Alabama a 31-6-2 lead in the series.
Stingy against the run
For the third straight game, Alabama held an opponent to under 100 yards rushing, holding the Golden Eagles to 35 yards net. In those three games, in fact, the Crimson Tide has only allowed a total of 72 yards on the ground.
Prior to Saturday, Bama held Oklahoma to minus-23 yards and North Texas to 50 yards. For the season, Alabama has given up just 245 yards, and average of 61.25 yards per game.
Eagles lose the handle
Southern Miss put the football on the ground seven times against the Tide, losing four of the fumbles.
Quarterback Micky D'Angelo had five of the USM miscues, including a botched exchange from center late in the game. Three of D'Angelo's fumbles were caused by the relentless Alabama pass rush, including one recovered by Bama's Kenny King in the fourth quarter. Derrick Nix and LeRoy Handy also lost fumbles for USM.
Watts hurt early
Alabama starting quarterback Tyler Watts suffered a sprained left foot on the Crimson Tide's first possession of the game, and did not return.
The senior signal-caller completed 2 of 3 passes for 12 yards and ran twice for six yards before going down. His status is questionable pending further treatment.
Punter on the run
No play illustrated the bad luck that dogged USM than a fourth-down play in the third quarter, when Tide punter Lane Bearden was forced to run after a bobbled snap and dashed 19 yards for a first down.
It was Bearden's second run of the season. His first run was a 3-yard touchdown run off a fake field goal against Oklahoma.
Wet weather, wet football
Heavy rain fell on Bryant-Denny Stadium before and after the game, making for wet conditions throughout the contest.
A light rain fell briefly midway through the second quarter, making it tough to get a grip on the ball, possibly contributing to the many fumbles in the game. Alabama had two fumbles and lost one.
Williams leads parade
Junior running back Shaud Williams had his best game at Alabama, rushing 21 times for 135 yards, including a long run of 43 yards on the Tide's first possession.
Ahmaad Galloway added 89 yards for Alabama, and altogether six backs carried the ball for the Tide.
Haulman a bright spot
It is telling that about the only player for USM that had an outstanding day was punter Mark Haulman, who kicked seven times and averaged 44.0 yards per kick.
He had a long punt of 56 yards and dropped three inside the Alabama 20.
Among the many things Alabama did well was convert on third down. The Tide was nine of 20 on third-down plays, and that includes stops by USM on their last three third-down attempts. For good measure, Alabama was also successful the only time it went for it on fourth down.
Pruitt stands tall
USM junior free safety Etric Pruitt lived up to his reputation as a playmaker for the Eagle defense. Against Bama, Pruitt had 15 solo tackles, three assists and forced both of Alabama's fumbles.
Alabama opens up SEC play on Saturday, traveling to Fayetteville, Ark., to face the Arkansas Razorbacks in a 6 p.m. start.
USM returns to Conference USA play Saturday against Army. Kickoff at West Point, N.Y., is at noon.