This week the Alabama Crimson Tide host the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles in a game that not many predict to be very competitive. That said, the Southern Miss-Alabama series is an old one, and one that has featured a few upsets.
The teams first squared off in 1947, when Harold "Red" Drew's Tide beat the Golden Eagles 34-7 at Legion Field. For nine of the next ten years the teamsmet, and the results showed what we came to expect from USM, as the Eagles became first increasingly competitive, and then did the improbable — winning on the road against the Tide. In 1953, USM scored a program-defining win, beating the SEC champions 25-19 in Montgomery. The result was not a fluke, as Southern Miss defeated Alabama again the following season, 7-2. 1955 would usher in a new head coach, JB "Ears" Whitworth, with the two meeting in 1956's 13-13 tie.
Having a cupcake own the past few meetings has a way of cooling off a series, and Alabama did not face USM for a full decade when Paul Bryant's 1966 team posted a stifling 34-0 victory. Bryant, wearing his AD hat, scheduled the Eagles in spates for the next 15 years, going 10-0, until the 1981 season. That meeting, perhaps more than anything, showed both the declining skills of the coach, and the non-qualifier Eagles' talent, when USM scraped out a 13-13 tie over the shaky SEC Champions. In 1982, USM would finish what they began, posting a 38-29 win in Tuscaloosa. There is no way to understate the impact of that loss, nor that it was another defining moment for the Golden Eagles' program. Paul Bryant's all-time record in what is now Bryant-Denny Stadium was a ridiculous 72-2. The last time the man lost in Tuscaloosa was in 1963, to the Florida Gators. Nevertheless, the Bear's send-off season of 1983 ended with a 28-16 home victory over USM.
The next 15 years of the series would be largely uneventful, seeing Ray Perkins post a 2-0 mark and Bill Curry go 3-0 in the nest four years.
Gene Stallings' arrival marked a new, and decidedly weirder turn in the rivalry, beginning with the first game of his inaugural season at Legion Field on September 8 1990. The 13th ranked Crimson Tide stepped onto Legion Field to meet an unranked Golden Eagles team in what most thought would be a comfortable win. But, there was a kid on the other side from Kiln, Mississippi who had different thoughts, as the Tide fell 27-24. Perhaps you've heard of Brett Favre? I'm sure Alabama had, as Southern Miss — the original "anyone, any place" school, had just beaten Florida State the year before on the strength of Favre's right arm.
Nor was this a one-off result either. The Tide would not face the Golden Eagles in 1991, but in 1992 they did...and Southern Miss nearly swung the upset, losing 17-10. That final, by the way, was the closest win Alabama would have en route to winning the 1992 National Championship. The teams met for the next six six years, with Alabama winning them all (but not always comfortably.)
Enter the 2000 season, where an Alabama squad fresh off a 1999 SEC championship that featured a sweep of the Florida Gators, held a lofty #3 ranking. Alabama had a calamitous road loss to UCLA to open the season, and had been unremarkable in a tuneup versus Vanderbilt, so the warning signs were there that grey day in Legion Field as the Tide faced #25 Southern Miss. In the recent history of Alabama, there have been many desultory, listless losses. And I have seen many of them. However, few can match the bottom-of-the-barrel, low energy crowd at that game, or the way that a midmajor team absolutely whipped our ass up and down the field. I believe I threw up at this moment (first clip):
The 2000 season culminated in Mike Dubose's firing alongside his ticking time bomb of NCAA violations, a sexual harassment scandal, and a woeful 3-8 record that included losses to Central Florida and a tie at the bottom of the division with lowly Ole Miss.
Dennis "Hold the Rope" Franchione came in the following season, and in his brief tenure stumped USM 2-0, exacting a flavorless sort of retribution in relatively meaningless games. Mike Shula was next on the docket, and, for all of his faults, was flawless against Southern Miss. During that 3-0 span, however, the series had another defining moment: Prothro's 2005 catch before the half, in a play that salvaged the game and ultimately Alabama's bowl eligibility.
The two teams would not meet again until 2019, as stud Junior QB Tua Tagovailoa threw five TDs, battering ram BRob added another, and Jerome Ford, the now-feature back at Cincinatti, scampered in for a score to complete ‘Bama’s 49-7 rout.
These Eagles don’t figure to be significantly more competitive than the 2019 crew, but 40-year-old former Tulane / ULL OC, Will Hall, has had the Eagles playing a bit better than last season’s disaster under Jay Hopson. It’s also a team who’s identity is being formed defensively and on the ground, at the line of scrimmage. After Saturday’s Florida debacle, that has to give the Tide front seven pause. Will has also done a good job attracting local talent and keeping the kids of former athletes. His first Golden Eagles class was 5th in C-USA, up from 11, 9, and 7 the prior three seasons. On the roster, the Eagles have RB Frank Gore Jr. from Miami (of course), who was a second-team All-CUSA selection, and WVU transfer WR QB, Trey Lowe, the grandson of ‘Bama great Woodrow Lowe — and both were Top 60 players at their position.
So, as you enter Bryant-Denny, be heedful that USM can be a dangerous opponent. This is a proud team, with an excellent history, and it’s a history that includes staging the improbable against the Crimson Tide. It is also an extensive history, as USM ranks 9th in all-time opponents faced by the Crimson Tide - the two facing off even more than SEC charter members Kentucky and Florida.
We’ll have more on this game later this week. Roll Tide
Did you know:
That the first meeting was in 1947?
That the series record is 33-6-2?
That the last meeting was a 30-21 Alabama win in 2005?
That Southern Miss' win percentage (14.3%) equals that of Clemson (14.3%) and exceeds Ole Miss (14%)