Nothing Overlooked

Southern Miss won't have talent equal to Alabama's when the teams face off Saturday night, a 6:45 p.m. start to be broadcast on espn2, but there are some unique circumstances that should keep Alabama on its toes.

As defensive coordinator Joe Kines puts it, "They're about as dangerous as a box full of rattlesnakes."

The game for the Golden Eagles will be its first, since their scheduled opener against Tulane was cancelled because of Hurricane Katrina. Because of that, the Crimson Tide will be using the summer scouting report prepared by defensive ends coach Paul Randolph.

"It's like two opening game, back-to-back," Kines said. "Coach Randolph did a heck of a job, but that's all we have to go on."

Southern Miss has without a doubt studied the Crimson Tide's season opener against Middle Tennessee inside-out, hoping to come up with a few surprises to counter Alabama's defensive tactics.

Alabama's defense will focus first and foremost on Southern Miss quarterback Dustin Almond. Almond had a tough assignment two years ago when he made the first start of his career against Alabama. He completed 16-of-28 passes for 196 yards and no interceptions, but couldn't get Southern Miss into the end zone.

Alabama used a methodical running attack with third-string quarterback Brandon Avalos to earn the 17-3 win last year, but Almond earned the starting job at Southern Miss.

"When you look at him on tape he throws the ball downfield as good as anybody we'll play," Kines said. "Last week we faced a lot of short, underneath stuff."

Downfield passing invites a hard-charging pass rush, which Southern Miss has historically countered effectively with screen plays.

"When you think about Southern Miss and their coaching staff offensively, they've done a good job with the screens," Kines said. "Their screen game may be as good as any in America. They execute it well and they have a great plan for it."

Alabama faced another first-time starter, Damion Carter, last year because Almond was injured the week prior to the Bama game. Carter is now listed as the Eagles number two split end.

"Almond's back and healthy," Kines said. "The last couple of years we've played them when they've had to make a move at quarterback before the game, where their quarterback wasn't going big guns."

Kines also expects a ramped up running game led by Larry Thomas, who rushed for 49 yards on seven carries a year ago.

"From what we read and listen to them, (Thomas) has come in and really given them a spark at that position," he said.

Southern Miss has been in big games before and won. Most notably on the road at traditional powerhouse Nebraska a year ago.

"Their history says they've gone into a lot of places and upset a lot of people," Kines said. "If you pull out the Nebraska film from last year and they just shredded them apart. It wasn't a fluke."

Southern Miss beating Nebraska indeed was not a fluke. But Nebraska ended up with a 5-6 season, one of its worst years in memory. Regardless, Southern Miss won't be intimidated by the environs in its Friday afternoon walk-through in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Another reason to keep focused before the SEC opener in two weeks: for the seven Alabama players on Southern Miss's roster, Saturday will be their last chance against Alabama. The series between the schools ends its long-running series on Saturday. Alabama and Southern Miss have met in all but three seasons since 1980 (1984, 1988 and 1991).

"It'll take a heck of an effort on our part to slow them down," Kines said.

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