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Marshall football: Southern Miss coach seeks leadership from players

The Southern Mississippi football team's fall has been swift, from last season's Conference USA champion to 0-3 in 2012. The Golden Eagles already have eclipsed their loss total from 2011 and are looking up at everyone in the East Division.

Their last setback was 42-17 against a surprising Western Kentucky team that beat Kentucky the week before. All three of Southern Miss' losses have been by 10 or more points.

First-year Coach Ellis Johnson has experience being a part of a staff that takes over a program. He's seen cooperation and commitment from the team. But he's still searching for effective leadership among his players.

"Do we have great, confident, experienced leadership? That's something I think we're still trying to find," he said. "I really think that when leadership comes from inside, you have a huge advantage and it's something you can build and I think it's critical. I'm not trying to avoid the answer, but I don't have a real good feeling right now where they are."

The Golden Eagles have it no easier this week against 19th-ranked Louisville, the Big East's bell cow. The undefeated Cardinals visit Southern Miss, and playing with emotion will be key, Johnson said.

"That's the chicken and the egg," he said "I think success is what feeds emotion and which comes first, I think it's preparation and performance. When you perform, you can feed off it and get emotional. Maybe, one day we'll win a ball game and find out what our postgame chant is."

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THE TWO-QUARTERBACK system at Alabama-Birmingham are over, said Coach Garrick McGee. The Blazers have used both Jonathan Perry and Austin Brown under center for the first three games of the season, but McGee will go with just one now that the Blazers open conference play against Tulsa.

"Obviously these games count," he said. "I took the job to win the Conference USA championship. There will be one quarterback playing. I'm not going to say who that is right now. There is still a lot of practice left this week. I have an idea of who it might be, but I won't say it until the game."

Based on the statistics, it looks like the junior Perry has the edge. He's completed 42-of-78 passes for 599 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Brown, a redshirt freshman, has completed 25-of-39 passes for 225 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. McGee said he won't need to retool the offense depending upon which player starts.

"The only time you have to do different things is when one quarterback is a passer, and the other is a runner," he said. "Then you have to change your offense. These two guys are about the same. They throw it well. They run it just good enough to hurt you. It's pretty much the same thing."

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THE UTEP football team is 1-3, but Coach Mike Price feels like the Miners could be 4-0.

"If I had said that to you a month ago, you would've said, 'Who are you kidding?' But the way we've played, we certainly had opportunities in those three games," he said.

All three losses were by double digits, but the Miners allowed two fourth-quarter touchdowns to Oklahoma, couldn't convert on two second-quarter scoring opportunities to pull closer to Ole Miss and, last week, trailed Wisconsin by just four in the fourth quarter before allowing two late touchdowns.

"We have the confidence," Price said. "We just have to keep the focus for 60 minutes. We probably haven't done that. The lack of focus is probably the most frustrating thing for me in the Wisconsin game ... the lack of focus in key situations."  

UTEP lost senior safety Richard Spencer, the Miners' leading tackler, to a season-ending ACL injury. Price said UTEP might petition the NCAA for another year of eligibility.

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.


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