Saturday, October 23, 1999

Southern Miss 'D' a test for UC

Bearcats must eliminate errors for C-USA win

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The University of Cincinnati Bearcats can't top their upset of Wisconsin this season. But knocking off league kingpin and No.21 Southern Miss today in Hattiesburg would be close.

        “This team (Southern Miss) has lost two league games in four years,” UC coach Rick Minter said. “They're good — real good.”

  • Kickoff: 3 p.m. today at M.M. Roberts Stadium (33,000), Hattiesburg, Miss.
  • Records: UC 2-4 (0-2 C-USA),
  Southern Miss 4-2, (3-0).
  • Radio: WLW-AM (700).
  • Series: UC leads 5-4 (last: 1997, USM 24-17).
  • Line: Southern Miss by 171/2.
  • What to watch: On paper, USM is a much better squad than UC, but the Golden Eagles can't relax — the Bearcats are averaging 403 yards of offense a game (34th in the country). Of course, they haven't amassed any of it against a defense as stingy as USM's (281 yards allowed per game, 11th in the country). Al though UC coach Rick Minter said the Bearcats must establish their running game, the guess here is they'll mostly throw. Army — which before last week ranked first nationally in rushing (309 yards a game) — thought it could run on USM, but the Golden Eagles allowed the Cadets only 172 yards offensively and shut them out.
        Southern Miss' two Conference USA losses were to Tulane last year (“when Tulane's defense scored twice,” Minter said) and a “heart-thumper” in 1996 to Houston, 59-46 in the last game of the season.

        “They're in a talent-rich area, with a great tradition, and they've been recruiting well for a long time,” Minter said. “And they've had great continuity in their coaches. They have a true program.”

        UC was lauded early in the season for shocking Wisconsin and playing Ohio State so well in Columbus. But getting beat by such teams as Troy State and Alabama-Birmingham encourages dime-store psychoanalysis that the Bearcats are letting down.

        For his part, Minter certainly isn't losing any intensity. The Southern Miss defense ensures that much.

        “(They) went to Lincoln, Nebraska, and College Station (Texas) and allowed only one touchdown. One touchdown! And they shut out Army, which scored 59 points on Louisville.”

        But Minter isn't dwelling on this with his players.

        “I'm not going to build 'em up as anything more than X's and O's,” he said of the Golden Eagles.

        “And, yes, their X's and O's are pretty good. But so are our kids — when we don't turn it over, when we don't tip passes, when we don't have missed assignments, when we make tackles at the line of scrimmage.”

        The youth of the Bearcats is causing Minter to call upon punter Adam Wulfeck more often than desired.

        The reason? Field position.

        “Right now, we're livin' and dyin' with every possession,” Minter said. “This team is so fragile, we can't afford to put our defense out there at midfield just 'cause I tell 'em, "Fellas, we're going for it on fourth-and-12.'

        “I'm sure people questioned (why) we didn't go for it on fourth-and-12 at the end of the (Alabama-Birmingham) game,” Minter said. “Well, show me your best fourth-and-12 call. If you can prove to me (it will work), we'll call it every play of the game. And if we only get 6 (yards), we'll be happy.”

        The Bearcats need experience.

        “But we've got heart (and) character and we've got a good quarterback (Deontey Kenner),” Minter said. “We can throw the ball better than we've ever thrown it. That gives you a chance.”

        The offense will get better.

        “In '96 and '97, we were as good or superior up front to most teams we played,” Minter said. “Down the road, we're going to be good again up front. Right now, we're just young.”

        Minter likes the defensive improvement but seeks offensive consistency: “We're running the ball well at times; we're throwing it well at times. We just don't sustain good drives. We're living for the big play. That's OK — if you make 'em. But don't set yourself up in such a way that big plays are all you've got.”

        Today, UC must establish the run.

        “They (Southern Miss) are an aggressive defense, real active,” Kenner said. “They try to confuse you, move a lot of people around, more than anybody I've ever seen.”

        Kenner said he believes there will be opportunities to move the ball today.

        “I think we have a good game plan,” he said. “We have some ways to attack what they do — but we have to execute.”


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