Defense dominates as usual in USM win

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 2, 2001

Richard Dark

Sunday, September 02, 2001

The Natchez Democrat

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HATTIESBURG – New season, new faces, same Southern Miss defense.

The USM Golden Eagle defense, a unit filled with a plethora

of young players came out and showed the Oklahoma State Cowboys

that it was business as usual, handing them a 17-9 defeat in front

of 25,134 rain-soaked fans at M.M. Roberts Stadium.

&uot;I think this was a real good, solid win for our football

team,&uot; USM coach Jeff Bower said. &uot;The defense didn’t

look good early, but we settled in and played hard. The crowd

helped us too.&uot;

But as thorough as the effort seemed to be, it took one last

stand to keep OSU from potentially tying the contest in the closing


A big pass interference penalty helped push the Cowboys down

to the USM 26 inside the two minute mark.

But with the visitors needing just just four yards to keep

it going, quarterback Aso Pogi threw three straight incompletions.

&uot;I thought we did a good job of overcoming adversity,&uot;

rover Chad Williams said. &uot;They were driving on us, but our

character showed up.&uot;

Maybe the defensive corps simply needed something to respond

to early on, because after the Cowboys (0-1) got on the board

first with a 47-yard field goal, That’s when the unit seemed to

turn up the heat.

On the Cowboys next series, Pogi drove his squad to the USM

42. After an Eagle pass interference penalty, Marchene Hatchett

bled through and delivered a bone-jarring sack, knocking the ball


Then Jeff Kelly went to work for the Eagles (1-0), finding

Kenneth Johnson and 2000 Mobile Bowl MVP Leroy Handy for 17 and

15 yard gains, respectively. Kelly found freshman wideout Chris

Johnson for the nifty 20-yard score that gave USM a lead it would

not relinquish.

&uot;That’s a pretty good way to start your college career,&uot;

Bower said, referring to Johnson’s first ever collegiate catch.

Despite the slopy conditions due to a steady morning drizzle,

the Eagles consistently flew to the ball and showed plenty of

movement up front.

But in the mold of such former Eagle defensive stalwarts as

Leo Barnes, Cedric Scott and Adalius Thomas, this current group

wasn’t completely satisfied with the output.

&uot;I we played a good defensively, but we made some mistakes

too,&uot; linebacker Roy Magee said. &uot;There’s some things

we can work on.&uot;

No one argued that with regards to the offense, which was shut

out in the second half.

&uot;Certainly things could have gone better for us,&uot;

Kelly said. &uot;But you have to look at Oklahoma State too,

they came out and made some adjustments on defense in the second


For his part, the Eagle field general was his usual self, hitting

for 19-of-33 passes, good for 261 yards. Kelly and running back

Dawayne Woods fueled the Eagles second score. Kelly found Handy

for another 20-yard gainer, as well as Kenneth Johnson, who played

with a knee injury.

Woods capped the 11 play, 64-yard production by bulling in

from a yard out and after Brant Hanna’s second PAT of the day,

USM held a 14-6 lead.

With 2:16 left in the first half, Hanna ended the scoring for

the Eagles with a 23 yard field goal after Woods was unable to

gain short first down yardage on successive tries.

On a day when conditions seemingly dictated a strong all-around

rushing performance, the contest turned more to the air.

As a whole, the running game was largely ineffective, garnering

only 53 markers on 39 carries.

The story was the same for OSU (45 yards on 26 carries), which

was unable to deliver a victory in new coach Les Miles, debut.

Pogi went 19 of 28 for 225 yards, a far cry from the 80 yards

he was held to in the Eagles 28-6 win in Stillwater last season.

&uot;Every time we thought we had something going, those guys

slammed the door on us,&uot; Miles lamented. &uot;They

made it tough on us today.&uot;