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Volume 69, Issue 18, Thursday, September 18, 2003

Sports
 

Cats and dogs

Mississippi's struggle this season makes the bulldogs the underdogs, and the Cougars intend to keep it that way.

By Christian Schmidt
The Daily Cougar

One team will come into this game with a 2-1 record; the other has yet to win a game this season. But Mississippi State, which hasn't won a game in its last seven tries, is still favored by 4.5 points over Houston, who has a winning record and is playing at home.

"Mississippi State has a very deceiving record. They're 0-2, but they played Oregon 42-34 in the first game of the season, and then were up 28-14 against Tulane with four and a half minutes left, and gave up 17 points to lose 31-28," UH football head coach Art Briles said.

There is no such deception in the Cougars' record this season. Houston rolled to an easy 48-14 win over Rice, then were beat 50-3 by Michigan on the road. Last week, the Cougars came back in strong fashion, getting the last laugh against Louisiana-Lafayette 21-14 in a torrential downpour Saturday.

Saturday against Mississippi State may be the chance Briles has been looking for to show everything his highly diverse offense can do.

"We're still trying to figure out what we can and can't do as a team, and each week gives us a chance in that mode," Briles said. "We've got to get out there and we've got to play well against a formidable opponent."

That Cougar offense is led by freshman quarterback Kevin Kolb, who will start in only his fourth collegiate game. Under Kolb, Houston is averaging 330.3 yards of offense per game.

Mississippi State has a new look this season with new people filling most of the assistant coaching positions. Head coach Jackie Sherrill, who is fourth among active coaches in Div. IA wins (178), hired Ron Cooper as defensive coordinator and Morris Watts as offensive coordinator.

"They really haven't gotten on track. They've got a new offensive coordinator and a new defensive coordinator," Briles said. "They're moving the ball really well on offense, they've had a few problems defensively, but I think a lot of that has to do with who they're playing."

Those two new coordinators are still working out the kinks. On offense, the Bulldogs have been productive, averaging 440 yards of total offense per game. Unfortunately for Mississippi State, the Bulldog defense is giving up 508.5 per game.

The Bulldog offense relies heavily on the running ability of tailbacks Nick Turner and Jerious Norwood, who split time in the backfield. Both are on the small side; Turner is only 182 pounds and Norwood weighs in at 192 pounds. Together, they are producing an average of 171 rushing yards per game.

When the Bulldogs aren't running the ball, they rely on senior quarterback Kevin Fant and senior wide receiver Justin Jenkins. Fant has thrown for 265.5 yards per game this season. Jenkins has 15 receptions for 225 yards this year.

The Cougar defense will try to stop that potent Mississippi State offense by relying heavily on its defensive secondary. Houston is leading the nation in passing yards allowed, giving up just 79 yards per contest. Much of that can be attributed to the play of senior safety Jermain Woodard and junior cornerback Stanford Routt.

"Woodard has really had a successful year and has really been consistent, and (sophomore safety Will) Gulley has done a good job back there, and Stanford has really done well," Briles said.

Saturday's game will be the final non-conference matchup of the year for the Cougars, and Briles said he sees it as one last chance to get tuned up for the Conference USA schedule.

"It would be a nice win for the University of Houston, but it won't be the defining moment of our season," Briles said.

UH and Mississippi State have faced each other 12 times, and each team has won six games, though the last meeting was in 1972. In 1969, the last time the teams played in Houston, the Cougars beat the Bulldogs 74-0, handing MSU the worst loss in the school's history.

 Send comments to dcsports@mail.uh.edu

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