C-USA notebook: USM wins one for ailing Hopson
The Southern Miss defense played with a purpose in the Golden Eagles’ 28-7 win over Southern Methodist on Saturday, forcing four turnovers and allowing only a late touchdown.
Perhaps the Golden Eagles (3-3, 2-1 Conference USA) played with heavy hearts for defensive coordinator Jay Hopson, who underwent surgery for testicular cancer Thursday at Indiana University’s Cancer Center in Indianapolis.
If so, Saturday’s defensive performance was a fitting tribute to the second-year defensive coordinator, who did not attend the game.
"This one was for Jay Hopson," Southern Miss head coach Jeff Bower told the Hattiesburg (Miss.) American. "We’re going to give him the game ball."
Hopson, who fought testicular cancer 12 years ago, spoke with a few coaches and players via phone after Saturday’s game.
He also addressed the team briefly on Tuesday before his departure from Hattiesburg.
"He was good," Bower told the Hattiesburg American. "He just wished them the best and wanted to let them know that he was thinking of them and loved them.
"He wanted them to play as hard as they could play. The guys, they really wanted to hear from him, and he wanted to say a few words before he left."
Defensive assistants Dave Wommack and Bill Wilt will serve as co-coordinators in Hopson’s absence. Wommack called the defensive plays in Saturday’s game.
Bower said Hopson, 39, is still waiting to see whether growths doctors found were cancerous, and there is no definite timetable for his return to the team.
"I haven’t talked to him since after the game, but he is on his way back (and) should be here early this evening," Bower said at his weekly press conference on Monday. "He is supposed to find out the results from the pathology lab today."
In the meantime, support continues to pour in for the second-year defensive coordinator.
One person who offers his well wishes is SMU head coach Phil Bennett, who watched Hopson’s unit take his offense to work on Saturday.
Bennett and Hopson became friends in 1994 when the former was defensive coordinator at Louisiana State and the latter was a graduate assistant. The two have remained close friends ever since.
"I’ve been crushed over it," Bennett told the Hattiesburg American following Saturday’s game. "I talked with him today before the game; he was in great spirits. He’s going to find a way to beat this thing."
No time like the present
East Carolina senior wide receiver Juwon Crowell snagged his first career touchdown against Texas-El Paso on Saturday, and it was a big one.
Crowell, a backup wide receiver, reeled in a 34-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Rob Kass to tie the game at 39 as time expired in regulation. That gave the Pirates new life as they went on to defeat the Miners 45-42 in overtime.
And just that quickly, Crowell, who had only five career receptions prior to Saturday’s game, became the man of the night.
"It’s great. He’s a senior, he’s worked his tail off, he’s paid his dues," East Carolina head coach Skip Holtz told the Greenville (N.C.) Daily Reflector. "Here’s a senior that wants to start and play every down. His role has been special teams, and he’s accepted that role and as a backup receiver."
Bennett not giving up
Call him crazy, but Southern Methodist head coach Phil Bennett thinks that the Mustangs (1-5, 0-2 C-USA) can still reach a postseason bowl.
Other than his players and staff, he may be the only one who seriously believes this. SMU, which dropped a 28-7 decision to Southern Miss on Saturday, needs to win five of its final six games to become bowl-eligible. All six are against C-USA opponents.
That seems like a tall order for the Mustangs, currently on a four-game losing streak, but Bennett has faith.
"You look at this conference and it’s just wild," Bennett told the Hattiesburg American following Saturday’s game. "I told them the other day, ‘if you win seven games, you’ll win the conference. If you win six, you’ll probably win your division. If you win five, you’ll go to a bowl game.’
"And that’s still possible."
Central Florida coach George O’Leary could have said a lot after watching his team suffer an embarrassing 64-12 whipping at the hands of South Florida on Saturday.
Instead, he chose to say little when he faced the Golden Knights (3-3, 1-1 C-USA) in the locker room following the game.
"I didn’t say anything to them except, ‘fellas… this is a game of mental toughness. Now is the time you have to step up and be counted,’" O’Leary told the Orlando Sentinel. "I didn’t want a lot of noise. Just shower up, let’s get on the bus and get out of (there).
"We have a long season to play. The worst thing I can do is go in and raise heck about it. They know what happened just like I do."
Avery does it again
Houston wide receiver Donnie Avery sure knows how to reel in the awards.
Avery was named C-USA Offensive Player of the Week on Monday after setting school and C-USA records for receiving yards (346) and all-purpose yards (427) in the Cougars’ 56-48 win over Rice on Saturday. This comes two weeks after being named C-USA Special Teams Player of the Week.
Avery had touchdown receptions of 77 and 67 yards in Saturday’s game. He had 208 receiving yards in the first quarter, which set a school record for most receiving yards in a quarter.
Farmer makes it look easy
Junior outside hitter Justine Farmer’s strong play helped the Houston volleyball team win two C-USA matches over the weekend.
Now comes her reward.
Farmer was named C-USA Offensive Player of the Week on Monday, marking the second time she has received a weekly this season.
In the Cougars’ five-game win over Texas-El Paso on Sunday, Farmer recorded 31 kills and 15 digs for her 12th double-double this season. Against Tulane on Friday, Farmer smacked 20 kills and 13 digs.