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20 Southern Miss With a newfangled offense, the Golden Eagles will try to fly faster and farther

Junior Derrick Nix is your father's running back. Until now he
has restricted all his ducking and weaving to hunting and
spinner bait; as a runner, he's as north-south as the prime
meridian. The Baby Bull introduced Conference USA to his power
running style two years ago, when as a true freshman he rushed
for 1,180 yards. His 1,054 yards last season made him the Golden
Eagles' first back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher since Ben Garry in
1977, and he's hankering to bulldoze a few more defenders and
repeat the feat this season.

This off-season, however, Nix has been working with first-year
running backs coach Shelton Gandy on improving his lateral
quickness and allowing blocks to develop before he plows into
the line. "I need to learn to avoid contact sometimes," Nix
says. Why change? The same question was asked of Southern Miss
coach Jeff Bower after he axed his entire offensive coaching
staff following a season in which the Golden Eagles went 6-0 in
conference and 9-3 overall, losing only at Nebraska, Alabama and
Texas A&M. Bower points to an imbalance between a defense that
ranked eighth nationally and an offense that was increasingly
predictable and unproductive with its
run-two-downs-and-throw-on-third-down pattern.

Enter Nevada coordinator Chris Klenakis, whose offenses in Reno
finished among the top five nationally each of the past four
seasons. Klenakis will have the Eagles using a high-energy,
quick-passing attack, with more play-action sets and quarterback
movement. Unlike the last two seasons, several passing plays
will feature Nix as the first option, challenging him to become,
like his team, a more complex offensive machine.

--Jamal Greene

COLOR PHOTO: GREG CAMPBELL/MEMPHIS COMMERCIAL APPEAL A bull in nickname and in style, Nix is looking to add a few new moves to his running repertoire.

Fast Facts

1999 record: 9-3 (6-0, 1st in C-USA)
Final ranking: No. 14 AP, No. 13 coaches' poll

Telling Number

Golden Eagles' home record in four seasons of Conference USA

The Book

An opposing team's coach sizes up The Golden Eagles

"Jeff Kelly throws a wobbly, sidearmed pass, but he completes
it. I had a lot more respect for him after we played them. I
thought we'd give him a bad game. He gave us a bad game....Nix
is so deceptive--and he has tremendous heart....[Defensive
tackle] Daleroy Stewart may be a surprise, a 300-pounder who's
really fast and powerful....[Rover] Leo Barnes is nasty, tough
on the run. He's a little undersized, but he can really bring it."

Strength: 59th of 115

Sept. 2 at Tennessee
16 at Alabama
23 at Oklahoma St.

14 at Tulane
28 at Houston

11 at Alabama-Birmingham
18 at Cincinnati