Sunday, October 20, 2002

Southern Miss 23, UC 14


Turnovers lead to third straight setback

By Christopher Mapp
Enquirer contributor

        HATTIESBURG, Miss. - UC coach Rick Minter has seen the “enemy,” and it's the Bearcats, he says. Despite nearly doubling Southern Miss in every statistical category, the Bearcats lost 23-14 to the Golden Eagles at M.M. Roberts Stadium on Saturday.

        USM improved to 5-2 overall and 3-0 to grab first place in Conference USA. The Golden Eagles are a half-game ahead of East Carolina, while UC (2-5, 1-2) lost its third in a row.

        “We are the enemy,” Minter said. “Not to take anything away from Southern Miss, but I still think we make more errors than our opposition forces. You can't give the ball away to a good football team and expect to win.”

        Added Bearcats defensive end Antwan Peek: “We are just not getting the job done. We just need to play on both sides (offense and defense).”

        It wasn't the sheer number of turnovers that hurt UC, but their eventual outcome. Taking advantage of one fumble and an interception by backup quarterback George Murray, who came in for the re-injured Gino Guidugli, USM scored 16 points off Bearcat mistakes.

        After leading UC on a 14-play, 80-yard scoring drive that tied the game 14-14 at the end of the third quarter, Murray was intercepted by Golden Eagles free safety Etric Pruitt, who returned the gift 44 yards for a touchdown.

        On the scoring drive, Murray showed his running ability by picking up a crucial third-down conversion. But on the ensuing possession, Murray's inexperience showed as his pass was swiped for the go-ahead score. Murray was 1-of-3 passing with one interception, but Guidugli praised his backup's effort.

        “George played a great game,” said Guidugli, who was 12-for-27 with no interceptions and 143 passing yards. “Not to take anything away from Southern Miss, but he was put in a tough situation.”

        Guidugli was injured on the very play that set up USM's second score.

        Trailing 7-6 at halftime, UC drove the ball on its first possession to the Golden Eagles 47, where Guidugli fumbled. In the ensuing scuffle, Guidugli's throwing hand was stepped on and started going numb on the sideline, he said. Murray came in two drives later.

        Michael Boley's fumble recovery was taken 32 yards to the Bearcats 5, where USM scored on a slant pass from freshman Dustin Almond to Marvin Young, giving the Eagles a 14-6 lead.

        The Golden Eagles' defense added a safety in the fourth quarter, sacking Guidugli in the end zone after UC was pinned on its own 3 by a 49-yard Mark Haulman punt.

        “They've got a good red-zone defense,” Murray said. “They gave us a challenge and we made a couple of mistakes we couldn't overcome.”

        Jonathan Ruffin put the Bearcats on the board first with a 22-yard field goal, and he added a 20-yarder in the second quarter to cut USM's lead to one point.

        UC did move the ball with ease and regularity. DeMarco McCleskey rushed for 139 yards and one touchdown on the Bearcats' way to rolling up 296 rushing yards. Tedric Harwell added 60 yards on eight carries, including a 26-yarder, the longest for UC.

        Although the Bearcats doubled the Golden Eagles' number of first downs, 22 to 11, and had 409 yards of total offense, USM linebacker Rod Davis said that what matters most in the end is the score.

        “You can't win if you can9t score,” Davis said. “You can give up 1,000 yards, but if you don't let them in the end zone it doesn't matter.”

        Meanwhile, UC's defense held the Golden Eagles to 211 total yards, 80 of which came on their first scoring drive. Almond kept the drive alive with a gutsy 33-yard completion to Young, easily USM's best offensive play of the day, after evading two Bearcats defenders who had him pinned in the backfield. Running back Derrick Nix scored on a 7-yard run at the 4:02 mark, putting USM ahead 7-3.

        “I'm proud of our defense,” Minter said. “They've been much maligned this year, but I think they stepped up and played big. But our offense continually kills us now with turnovers.”

        Added UC receiver LaDaris Vann: “We are just not doing our jobs right now. No matter what play is called, we should go out and do our jobs to the best of our ability. When we are supposed to be moving forward, we are moving backward, and that is hurting.”

        Cincinnati 3 3 8 0 - 14
        Southern Miss 7 07 9 - 23

        First Quarter
        Cin-FG Ruffin 22, 6:02
        USM-Nix 7 run (Jones kick), 4:02
        Second Quarter
        Cin-FG Ruffin 20, :47
        Third Quarter
        USM-Young 6 pass from Almond (Jones kick), 8:43.
        Cin-McCleskey 9 run (Murray rush), :00.
        Fourth Quarter
        USM-Pruitt 44 interception return, (Jones kick), 11:59.
        USM-Safety, Guidugli tackled in end zone, 2:47.
        A-28,031.
        INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
        RUSHING-Cincinnati, McCleskey 29-135, Harwell 8-59, Hall 5-31, Murray 9-24, Vann 3-9, Ervin 1-3, Guidugli 5-2. Southern Miss, Nix 19-77, Almond 9-23, Harris 2-20, Walley 1-1, Team 1-(minus-2).
        PASSING-Cincinnati, Guidugli 12-27-0-143, Murray 1-3-1-3, Southern Miss, Almond 7-22-0-92.
        RECEIVING- Cincinnati, Vann 6-63, McCleskey 2-40, Olinger 2-26, Hart 2-14, Lucius 1-3. Southern Miss, Young 5-63, Garner 1-18, Handy 1-1.
       



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