That 21-0 whipping included USM domination of the Alabama offense and special teams, and steady play from quarterback Jeff Kelly, who kept the ball in the Golden Eagles hands long enough to preserve the shutout.
Although USM won last year, Coach Bower understands that taking on the Crimson Tide will be no easy feat. "We will have to have a good week of preparation and play extremely well against a very talented football team," Bower said. "It is a great challenge, but one we are looking forward to."
If Southern Mississippi is to pull the upset again this year, they will have to overcome several injuries, some of which occurred during this week, when the Golden Eagles had a bye. "Probably, the most serious injury was to Dawayne Woods, who got hurt Saturday morning. Indications are that he has a first-degree sprain of the MCL. I don't know whether he will be able to play or not with his status," Bower explained.
Woods, USM's starting tailback, rushed for 70 yards on 25 carries in their season opening 17-9 victory over Oklahoma State. The USM passing game might also be slightly hindered by the injury of LeRoy Handy, although the 6'1" junior receiver is expected to play Saturday.
One area that is not a concern for Southern Miss coming into Saturday's game is quarterback, where they return starter Jeff Kelly for his senior campaign. Kelly was impressive in the season opener, completing 22 of 36 passes with no interceptions and one touchdown.
On the flip side of the equation, USM has some questions in their defensive secondary: Oklahoma State quarterback Aso Pogi torched the Golden Eagles for 294 yards through the air, completing 26 of 28 passes. However, what the secondary lacked, the USM front 7 made up for against the Cowboys, as the unit notched 5 sacks against the OSU for a total loss of 42 yards. Aside from those numbers, they allowed only 45 yards rushing the entire game.
Coach Bower believes his team fully understands the strengths and weaknesses of the Alabama offense. "They are a big, physical offense that has played well the first two ball games. They have big play receivers in (Freddie) Milons and (Antonio) Carter. They have just had a tough time getting points on the board."
One way Bower knows Bama can score is via special teams, and he is especially wary of what a kicking-game breakdown might do. "They are really dangerous. Milons also returns punts for them. They are very, very dangerous in special teams, and that is an area where we have to make improvement this week."
Coach Bower recognizes that while the Alabama defense didn't have its greatest game against Vanderbilt last Saturday, it still is a force to be reckoned with. "They are another typical Alabama defense," he said. "They are physical. They can move and have good quickness and speed on that side of the ball. They held a good UCLA team to about 290 yards on offense, with the exception of a couple of big plays."
On paper, Alabama is rated the favorite; however, recent history has put USM in the category with Vanderbilt under, "teams that always play Alabama tough". Therefore, the Tide expects nothing less from this Golden Eagles squad on Saturday night.
With a steady quarterback, an improving defense, and a no-quit attitude, Coach Jeff Bower will once again attempt to take his team from underdog to top dog at Legion Field.
Southern Miss Head Coach Jeff Bower's press conference quotes:
Opening comments on the open week: "I think we had a good open week. We had to adjust our plans again because of the inclement weather. We wanted to go Monday through Thursday and give them a break on Friday and Saturday, but we couldn't do that. We went indoors on Monday because of the rain. On Tuesday, we got about 40 minutes of practice in before there was lightning, and we went underneath the stadium after that just to walk through some things. On Wednesday, we didn't practice because the fields were so wet. Then we backed things up a little and practiced Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning.
I think we had three good days of hard work. We practiced in some heat, which we really needed because we haven't had that much heat. We had three pretty tough days, and we got a lot accomplished. We worked on fundamentals and a lot of little things to get some of our younger guys better and improve on some of the things that we didn't do well (against Oklahoma State). We did a lot of conditioning work to in the heat, which is something that we needed to do. I am sure that this weekend we will play in some extreme heat. So, we needed to get all that done."
On injuries: "I think everything went well, with the exception that we got a few guys hurt. We have to get healthy. LeRoy Handy didn't work at all, and we are hoping that he will be back some today. Kendrick Key did very little on Saturday, and we are hoping that he will be better today and be able to go through most of practice. Stewart Floyd injured his ankle on Saturday, and I am not sure how much he will be able to do today. We will find out about all these guys, and evaluate them in practice today.
Corey Yates is doing well. He will not play (against Alabama), but he is making progress with his recovery from the knee surgery. We are hopeful that we will have him for the Louisiana-Lafayette game. We have to get some guys healthy. James Walley gets the cast off his hand Wednesday, maybe sooner. We have to get him ready to play. We have to get Stevie Griffin ready to play to give us some depth at running back, not knowing what Dawayne's status will be for the game.
On Alabama: "We did work on Alabama some. We finalized our game plan last night, and we will do a few more things today as coaches. We will have good heavy work days on Monday and Tuesday. We will probably cut it back a little on Wednesday and have our normal Thursday.
I think Alabama is a good team. They are moving the ball on offense, but they are having a tough time putting points on the board. They are averaging about 420 yards of total offense a game, and they are running for about 193 yards per game. They are doing a real good job. They had about 480 yards of total offense on UCLA.
Defensively, they are another typical Alabama defense. They are physical. They can move and have good quickness and speed on that side of the ball.
Special teams is an area that I think will be a big key in the ball game. Milons is averaging over 30 yards on kickoff return, and Carter has had one kickoff return for 50 yards. They are really dangerous. We have to have a good performance out of our people on special teams. We will have to play well. We have to get some guys healed up this week. We held Kenny Johnson out last Saturday, just to give his knee another day to rest up. We will have to have a good week of preparation and play extremely well against a very talented football team. It is a great challenge, but one we are looking forward to."
On Woods' injury altering the game plan: "It will change it some. It also depends on the other backs this week, too -- how well they come along and learn what we are doing. From a mental aspect, you certainly don't want people in there who don't know what to do. We have to really simplify some things, and maybe do some things different than what we normally do."
On the benefits from defeating Alabama last season: "First of all, it has to give you some confidence. We have gone up there and played pretty well sometimes, but we haven't won. With a win, it gives our guys some confidence. It always helps in recruiting. When you beat a program with the caliber of Alabama, that is a real positive for your program and your kids."
On the Alabama option offense: "We have seen some things like that. They ran the option a lot in the first game, and they ran it twice against Vanderbilt. I don't know. We have to prepare for it. We have looked at a lot of tape. It is a TCU offense, and they are doing some things a little differently from a formation standpoint to adjust and do what is best for their personnel. You have to be very disciplined. It is assignment football, and you have to make sure that everyone is accounted for."
On the option takes away from the defensive plan: "It certainly can't take anything away from aggressiveness. That is the way the game is supposed to be played. It does, in some way, simplify your package defensively. When you get ready for an option team, you have to work on assignments and make sure everything is covered. I think the more defense you got in, the tougher it is to learn from an assignment standpoint."
On any advantage Alabama has on playing two games: "I don't know if there is. You would expect to be a better football team with two games under your belt rather than one. Certainly, with our youth and some of the guys being inexperienced, you would like to have another game. We made good use of our open week and did everything we possibly could to be a better team. That is the only thing that we can control, so I feel good about that."
On Terrell Paul: "He has been a real positive. He is a guy who we really felt needed to step up and be a leader up front. He really kept his motor running against Oklahoma State. We though he played extremely well in the ball game, and did a lot of good things. He was the Co-Defensive Player of the Week, and that is what we expect out of him. He has to do that every single week, but he has taken that responsibility and has been accountable so far. He has put on weight and has really worked hard in the weight room."
On the receiver plan if LeRoy Handy is limited: "The receivers are interchangeable. We won't mess around with the true freshmen very much, but Kenny Johnson and Dannye Fowler can move around. We can do some different things with Bobby Garner also. I think LeRoy will be ready to play. We have a plan just in case, and that is all you can do."