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Sunday Morning Quarterback

Sunday Morning Quarterback

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

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Ah, the mid-week football collision! Many Tuesday nights young SMQ absentmidedly charted star systems and leafed through Camus while secretly dreaming of watching his favorite program travel to play another mediocre school for a disinterested national television audience. Thank you, World Wide Leader: you are the dream-maker!

What's at Stake: USM tries to stay on top of the C-USA East in the midst of a very odd road trip (four straight games away from home on four different days of the week - Friday, Saturday, Tuesday, Sunday - including two games this week; after tonight, the Eagles travel to Houston Sunday for a make-up game delayed by Hurricane Rita). Marshall, at 4-4 with two league losses, can remain mathematically alive for the division title, but having already lost to co-leader UCF (who trails Southern Miss by virtue of head-to-head tiebreaker), is really looking to make its way into another unwatchable bowl game.
Southern Miss Wants: As Tim Doherty notes, early leads are a good thing. No need to let a potentially geared-up crowd (for the Herd's national TV "showcase") get going by letting an underdog hang around. Generally, Jeff Bower always wants to establish the run, but that aspect has been invisible (104th nationally, barely over 100 yards per game as a team), so - and close-to-the-vest Bower must twitch at the very thought, but - shoot it out! Given the Herd's scoring woes (a mere 18 points per game), tonight is the rare instance that actually favors an up-tempo, toss it around approach from the Eagles. Dustin Almond has already lit up UCF and UAB for relatively (for USM's low-octane attack) big numbers throwing largely to back-up wideouts (sophomore Chris Johnson, JC transfer Josh Barnes and especially lanky redshirt freshman "tight end" Shaun Nelson have been pleasant pass-catching surprises when go-to guys Antwon Courington and Anthony Perine have been hurt, or MIA), so the potential exists to outrace these guys on the scoreboard. If USM does get out to a nice lead, keep it - UAB pushed defibrilators to the limit and NC State came back to win after trailing by multiple scores in the third quarter the last two weeks. Force long drives from the pedestrian Herd offense; blown assignments, poor angles and weak tackling from the banged up secondary has led to too many big plays against this once-proud defense, which ranks 83rd (!) nationally. SMQ would like to see a lot of the old "organized chaos" - jumping around, no down linemen on sure passing downs, guys running everywhere before the snap - that has confused many a young quarterback, but expects more conservatism; when you're giving up a shameful 404 yards per game, bend but don't break is actually a welcome strategy.
Marshall Wants: Similarly, the old Pennington-Leftwich-Moss record-breaking days are well behind this offense, which wants to grind it out with Ahmad Bradshaw; the running back is also the team's leading receiver. Given the tremendous success of decent running backs against USM the past two seasons, and the slipshod effort that provided a breakout game for Andre Brown in the collapse at NC State last week, there is big potential in a clock-killing rushing attack; USM has been known to pressure better quarterbacks than Bernard Morris into mistakes when it hems up the run (see: Hackney, Darrell, the past three seasons), so getting Bradshaw going will be, as usual, priority number one. The less Almond has the ball, the better for the Herd.
The Pick: The Eagles rarely make anything easy, so even a nice, fast start is no guarantee of future results. Athletically, the defense should have enough of a speed edge to load up against Bradshaw while blitzing and playing man-to-man to keep Morris off-balance. Turnovers come, and turnovers=good position for Almond and Co. Even with three more games to go, a virtual must-win to kickstart the late drive for a championship game berth.
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8:17 AM

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And don't let the name fool ya - second guessing the phenomenal athletic feats and split-second decisions of college kids under extreme physical duress is for every day of the week.

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