Saturday, October 4, 2003

UC's goal: Quick start

Southern Miss' defense excels

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Those late-game comebacks that quarterback Gino Guidugli has made his trademark can be very exciting, but the University of Cincinnati players and coaches would just as soon not see any more of them this season.

In the past two weeks, UC has fallen behind 28-0 to Miami in the second quarter and 24-10 to Temple in the third quarter. The Bearcats came back to beat Temple in triple overtime but fell short last week against Miami.

When UC (3-1, 1-0 Conference USA) faces Southern Miss (2-2, 2-0) at 7 p.m. today at Nippert Stadium, the emphasis will be on taking control early as the Bearcats attempt to win their seventh straight C-USA game.

Their last conference loss was to Southern Miss, 23-14 last Oct. 19. UC is 6-6 against Southern Miss, 5-1 at Nippert.

"We look to jump out on teams early," said UC wide receiver Derick Ross. "Unfortunately that hasn't happened the last few games. That's our ultimate goal, to get started early and get Gino into a rhythm, because once he's in a rhythm, he's pretty good.

"We're just beating ourselves with dropped passes, early turnovers, jumping offsides, stuff that gets us in long-down situations. That's why we get behind schedule a little bit."

Southern Miss has been the class of the conference since it began football competition in 1996. The Golden Eagles lost only two games in the first four years of the league's existence. They're 36-11 in the league and have won or shared three of the seven conference titles, but none since 1999.

"Other teams have caught up to them a little bit," UC coach Rick Minter said. "The gap has been closed on Southern Miss."

But Minter still has great respect for the Golden Eagles defense, led by senior linebacker Rod Davis, a third-team All-American last year, and first-team all-conference free safety Etric Pruitt.

"They set the standard and have always set the standard since 1996 in this league on defense," Minter said.

Southern Miss has surrendered only 78 defensive touchdowns in the last four-plus seasons, the fewest of any team in the country during that period.

Its strength this year is pass defense. The Golden Eagles have allowed more than 200 passing yards only once. That's another reason why UC doesn't want to fall behind early and have to rely on Guidugli to try to throw them back into the game.

Getting ahead also would make life easier for UC's recently battered defense, which will try to confuse Southern Miss quarterback Damion Carter, a true freshman who's making his first career start.

"When we have the lead early in the game, we have a lot of confidence," UC strong safety Doug Monaghan said.

Said Minter: "It's not as easy to play defense when you're looking up a long barrel than it is playing from a position of strength, playing ahead."

RECORD WATCH: Guidugli needs 26 completions to break Danny McCoin's UC career completions record and eight plays to break McCoin's record for most plays on offense.

Cincinnati vs. Southern Miss

Kickoff: 7 p.m. today, Nippert Stadium (35,000).

Records: UC 3-1 (1-0 Conference USA); Southern Miss 2-2 (2-0).

Radio: WLW-AM (700).

TV: None.

Line: UC by 8.

Series: Tied 6-6.

What to watch: UC's defense, which has allowed an average of 499 yards in its last two games, will attempt to get back on track against Southern Miss and freshman QB Damion Carter, making his first start.

UC Team stats SM
409Offense avg.304
203Avg. by rush124
205Avg. by pass180
361Defense avg.358
95Avg. by rush177
266Avg. by pass181
30Avg. points for14
20Avg. pts. against22



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