Braving the elements
Southern Miss looking for bowl win in blustery Boise
Posted: Tuesday December 29, 1998 07:28 PM
BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- When Jeff Bower stepped on the field at Bronco Stadium for the first time last week, the Southern Mississippi coach knew he wasn't in Hattiesburg any more.
For starters, the artificial turf was bright blue, a shade that his skin soon matched as he felt the below-freezing temperatures. For a Mississippi native who had never been to Idaho, the unfamiliar climes of the Humanitarian Bowl will be a challenge in more ways than one.
"This state, this weather, this is all new to us," Bower said. "But we're going to get some extra socks to stay warm, and we'll go out and try to win."
Southern Miss meets Idaho on Wednesday in the second edition of the Humanitarian Bowl. It's a matchup with no history in a bowl game 1,700 miles from the Southern Miss campus, but Bower and his Golden Eagles will brave the elements and the infamous Smurf Turf in search of their second straight bowl win.
"Who knows? We might have been a cold-weather team all this time, and we didn't know it," Bower said.
On the other hand, Idaho coach Chris Tormey is hoping for a blizzard on game day.
"This is our home turf, so to speak, and they're coming into an environment they're not familiar with, so we've got to maximize whatever advantages we can get," Tormey said. "We'd like to see an old-fashioned Idaho snowstorm."
In just its third season of Division I play, Idaho (8-3) is thrilled to be anywhere for the first bowl game in school history. But add the delicious irony of playing on the home field of their archrivals, and the Vandals are overjoyed to be bowling in Boise.
Idaho earned the Big West Conference title and a second trip to Bronco Stadium by beating Boise State 36-35 in an overtime thriller on the same field a month earlier. Tormey was named the conference's coach of the year, and running back Joel Thomas was named co-offensive player of the year.
"This is a perfect cap to our season, because it's been our goal all year to get to this game," Tormey said. "We've got a big challenge, but I believe in this team."
Humanitarian Bowl officials also breathed an enormous sigh of relief when Idaho won the conference's automatic bid.
A matchup between Southern Miss and Big West second-place team North Texas could have meant death for a game that will likely not sell out the 30,000-seat stadium on Wednesday, even with Idaho's campus just a five-hour drive away.
For Southern Miss (7-4), anything less than a big win will be a disappointment. The Golden Eagles began the year with the first preseason ranking in school history before stumbling to a 1-3 start.
But they won six of their last seven contests to finish second in Conference USA behind Temple and ensure a fifth straight winning season for Bower, who removed his name from the list of candidates at Baylor two weeks ago in order to concentrate full-time on bowl preparations.
The Eagles scored 121 points in their final three games and battered Big West member Nevada 55-28 in their season finale. That's the same Nevada team that pounded the Vandals 58-23 in Moscow earlier in the year.
But Bower doesn't think common opponents are an accurate barometer of how the teams will play in Boise.
"There are so many variables that come into play in a bowl game that you don't worry about during the season," Bower said. "Both teams can be so much more creative offensively because they have more time to practice."
The forecast is for partly cloudy skies and warmer-than-normal temperatures, which may mean a field day for two high-powered offenses going up against weakened defenses.
Idaho gave up 148 points in its last four games of the season, while the Golden Eagles, who led Conference USA in total defense and scoring defense, will be playing without defensive coordinator John Thompson, who left on December 7 to take the same job at Memphis.
"I expect us to score some points, and I hope we can stop them from scoring a lot of points, but they have the potential to do that," Bower said. "Our defense will have to play one of its best games to shut this team down."
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