Alabama/Southern Miss game preview

Already known as a team that would travel anywhere, to play anyone, the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles notched one of their program's biggest wins last year against the Alabama Crimson Tide under the lights of Legion Field. The 21-0 whipping included USM domination of the Alabama offense and special teams.

Plus, steady play by quarterback Jeff Kelly kept the ball in the Golden Eagles hands long enough to preserve the shutout.

Southern Mississippi returns to the scene of that fateful game this Thursday night. But Southern Miss Head Coach Jeff Bower knows that the Tide needs this game to advance to a bowl in Coach Dennis Franchione's first crimson campaign, and defeating an improving Alabama squad will be no easy feat.

Bower was obviously impressed by Alabama's thrashing of archrival Auburn two Saturday's ago. "I think Alabama is very good.," he comments. "They are much improved from earlier in the year. They were real impressive against Auburn when you look at them on tape. They totally dominated that game. Offensively, they had about 550 yards. They did a good job on Auburn, who only had about 270 yards of offense. That was a dominant performance by them."

Before tragedy postponed this game earlier in the season, Coach Bower was concerned that his starting tailback, Dawayne Woods, would not be able to suit up against the Tide due to injury. Now, several weeks later, Woods is once again banged up for the game. However, Woods should be able to play in at least a limited role. Other than that, Bower says that playing two games in less than two weeks has not hurt the Golden Eagle's health status that much.

"Dawayne Woods didn't do much (early this week). We hope that he can do more. I think (deep snapper) Scott Croley will be back. Scott didn't make the trip to East Carolina because of a sprained ankle, but James Martin filled in and did a good job. I think Scott will be ready, and he looked pretty good yesterday. That is pretty much it. We are pretty healthy considering that we have played in two pretty quick games this late in the season."

One position 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. With two games to go in the regular season, Kelly has completed 171 passes for 2150 yards and 12 touchdowns, while tossing nine interceptions. Also, with 238 yards on the ground, the wily veteran is the team's second leading rusher.

On the crimson and white side of the ball, however, the quarterback situation is a little more clouded. Season-long starter Tyler Watts could be recovered from a groin injury, or Andrew Zow could try to repeat his performance at Legion Field.

With Andrew Zow at the controls, the Tide stretches a defense with the pass.

Bower thinks Tyler Watts is more of a running threat.

Because of this doubt, Bower admits that you have to prepare almost like you are going to play two slightly different teams. "I am not sure who is going to play. Zow has played in the last couple of games. They are a little different when he is in there. They are more one-back, throw the football more and run a lot less option. When you see Watts in there, they run a little bit more two-back stuff with more option and play action pass. You have to prepare for all of it. I assume there is a good chance that both of them may play. In knowing that, you prepare for two different styles of offense that you may see in the game, depending on who is going to be in."

Never before has Alabama ended up the season with Southern Mississippi, and the date of this game has added importance for both teams. Coach Jeff Bower quipped, ""I think that they think this a real big game. They are 5-5, and they have to get their sixth win to go to a bowl. This is major, major big."

Coming into this game playing their best football of the year, Alabama will be the favorite on paper to walk away victorious. However, with the numbers "21-0" still fresh in their minds, the Golden Eagles will no doubt come to Birmingham with more confidence than they have had in several years.

If the standard of recent seasons holds true, this match-up will transcend the feel of a standard non-conference game, and will end up instead being a battle where heart and determination could overcome speed and talent.

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