|Friday, November 6, 1998||
Volume 64, Issue 54
||Cougars look for sweet revenge
By Mark Mayorga
Houston and Southern Miss, like many teams that open their seasons with the hopes of going to a bowl game, have two distinct realities staring them in the face: If they win, they're going to a bowl game. If they lose, at least thereis next season.
The Cougars don't want to think about next season, but rather the agenda at hand -- getting an invitation to a bowl.
"The kids understand the importance of this game," head coach Kim Helton said. "Last year (USM) played flawlessly, and we didn't. This year they will be prepared, and we will be prepared also."
Unfortunately for the Cougars, this week's foe has an identical agenda. Southern Miss has either shared or won Conference USA the last two seasons and is not going to give away its crown without a fight.
USM is coming off a loss at the hands of the Alabama Crimson Tide and their 83,000 fans at Legion Field. This week, the Eagles will travel back to Robertson Stadium and play in front of only 20,000 fans.
The Eagles will return to the site that saw them fall to a 1996 Antowain Smith and Chuck Clements-led Cougar attack 56-49 in one of the most exciting football games in Houston history. The loss enabled the Cougars to earn the right to represent C-USA in the Liberty Bowl, and it left the Golden Eagles with a bad taste in their mouths.
USM quarterback Lee Roberts will try to prevent that from happening again. Roberts is an above-average passer surrounded by talent that makes him look better than he truly is.
The Cougars will need to put pressure on him throughout the game, which may get him rattled and invite the opportunity for a turnover. Giving Roberts time to find open receivers is what the Cougars cannot afford to let happen, because USM boasts a talented receiving corps, especially Sherrod Gideon.
"They've got a good quarterback, but the guy that he throws the ball to (Gideon) is exceptional," Helton said.
After having to endure injuries throughout the season, the Houston secondary is finally back to full strength, and will definitely need every bit of it with Gideon. Fortunately for the Cougars, he isn't a big receiver like UCLA's Brian Poli-Dixon, but more like Tennessee's Peerless Price.
In the Eagles' last four games, Derrick Nix has emerged as a steady running back that is capable of catching the ball out of the backfield. The Cougars need to be aware of the chance of a screen pass, and also of his use as a receiver near the goal line.
The Cougar offense may have started slowly at the beginning of the season, but it is finishing up big toward the end, sealing victories in the fourth quarter in three of the last four games.
The question surrounding the offense is whether Ketric Sanford will be healthy enough to contribute this weekend. If Sanford is unable to start, Mike Green will see a bulk of the action, with Leif Penn also filling in.
For any other team, losing a playmaker would leave a coach without any answers, but after he replaced an injured Sanford in last Saturday's game, Helton has seen that Green is capable of making big plays.
USM's secondary is near the bottom in most C-USA statistical categories, which could make Jason McKinley's day a bright one. McKinley should be able to hook up with Orlando Iglesias and Jerrian James for a substantial amount of yardage through the air. He is coming off a less-than-stellar game in which he threw three interceptions, due in part to poor throws and fouled reads.
The UH offense had success in last week's game with a screen pass for a 57-yard gain late in the fourth, and will undoubtedly use this play.
Game time is set for 2:30 p.m. at Robertson Stadium. Admission is free
for all students with a valid Cougar OneCard.
Reach Mayorga at