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Alabama Still Stinging From Last Year's Shutout

By The Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM, AL (AP) Alabama players found any number of adjectives to describe last season's 21-0 loss to Southern Mississippi.

Destroyed. Whipped. Embarrassed.

A game that made one season and broke another last year will be on the minds of both teams when the Crimson Tide (5-5) and Golden Eagles (6-3) meet again Thursday night.

``We're still thinking about the loss last year,'' Crimson Tide center Alonzo Ephraim said. ``Southern Miss came out and just basically destroyed us. We don't want to dwell on that, but you also have to remember it.''

A refresher:

—The Golden Eagles scored on a 54-yard interception return by Raymond Walls and an 18-yard fumble recovery by Joe Henley. Those were just two of four Tide turnovers.

—It was the first time Alabama had been shut out at Legion Field in 13 years, ending an eight-game winning streak in a series long ruled by the Tide.

No wonder that game was the dominant topic leading up to this one, even though the Tide can secure a winning season and Southern Miss can bolster its own bowl situation.

Southern Miss safety Chad Williams, a Birmingham native who was recruited by Alabama, knows well the significance of last year's game.

``That win meant a lot for our program last year,'' Williams said. ``It meant a lot to the Alabama program as well. They were at the point of their season where they were either going to be good or they were going to be bad.

``I think that game was a determining factor.''

Indeed, the Tide won only two of their final eight games after that.

First-year coach Dennis Franchione wasn't around for that game, but that doesn't mean he won't use it as a motivational tool.

``You know, I think there has been some mention of the score of that game the last few days,'' he said. ``As a player, you should want to make amends for not playing well.

``They want to make amends for how poorly they played last year.''

Quarterbacks Andrew Zow and Tyler Watts, both potential starters in this game, combined for just 122 yards passing.

``They embarrassed us,'' said Zow, who started against Auburn after Watts sustained a pulled groin. ``I think a University of Alabama football team should play harder than we did that day.''

Zow said it's added motivation, though the Tide shouldn't need it. A loss hands Alabama back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in 41 years.

``We have a chance to have a winning season and a chance for a bowl bid after a win,'' Zow said. ``If not, they embarrassed us again.''

If it happens, defensive tackle Jarret Johnson says it won't be due to lack of focus or effort.

``That was an extremely embarrassing game,'' Johnson said. ``I think you can just tell that we overlooked them and didn't respect them.

``For us to do that is absolutely immature as a football team, and I guarantee this team isn't going to do that.''

Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower has seen evidence that Alabama has regained some of its traditional swagger. The Tide are coming off wins over Mississippi State (24-17) and Auburn (31-7).

``The longer the season goes on, it seems like they are playing better and with more confidence,'' said Bower, who is 2-7 against the Tide. ``They have got to win to get themselves bowl-eligible. I am sure there is a lot of incentive for them to get ready to play.''

Southern Miss, which closes the season next Friday against TCU, could use another win to cement its own postseason status. They're vying for one of Conference USA's four bowl tie-ins, but Bower is trying not to think about that.

``We haven't gotten any bowl invitations. So, it is really not hard, to be honest,'' he said. ``We just have to get ourselves ready to go play.

``That is the only way you can approach it. You want to be successful. The only way to do that is to keep your concentration on the next football game and prepare each day.''

02/23/2007 10:47:43 AM

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