OSU copes without top defender

Wednesday, September 20th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

STILLWATER, Okla. – On Sept. 7, a couple of days before their season-opener against Tulsa, Oklahoma State coaches and players learned that senior cornerback Alvin Porter would not play.

Porter, considered the defensive player the Cowboys could least do without, was ruled ineligible by the NCAA because of a discrepancy in the number of credits he has accumulated. A committee is studying his case and a decision is expected this week.

"We've prepared like we weren't going to have him the last two weeks," defensive coordinator and secondary coach Mike Cassity said. "If he comes back, what a tremendous bonus that will be. We dearly miss him."

Without Porter, Oklahoma State has defeated Tulsa and Southwest Texas. But Saturday, No. 22-ranked Southern Mississippi invades. The Golden Eagles put together 83 and 96-yard fourth-quarter drives at Tennessee before losing, 19-16, then drilled Alabama in Birmingham, 21-0.

Road games hold no mystery for the Golden Eagles of coach Jeff Bower. They've played at such venues as Nebraska, Texas A&M, Penn State, Florida, Illinois and Georgia in the last five years, besides the annual tiff at Alabama.

USM likes to pass and run, and after two games against Tennessee and Alabama, the Eagles have rolled up 513 yards total offense and yielded 491 yards while running 11 fewer offensive plays than their opponents.

USM's fifth-year senior quarterback Jeff Kelly has hit 36 of 53 passes for 391 yards and three touchdowns. His favorite receivers are LeRoy Handy and Shawn Mills. Tailback Derrick Nix, a burly speedster, keeps defenses honest.

Tulsa quarterback Josh Blankenship lit up Oklahoma State's secondary for 373 passing yards, so there is some concern about Kelly's 67 percent accuracy.

"We have to cover their wide receivers much better," said OSU coach Bob Simmons. "We won't know if we can until we play."

Without Porter, OSU fields four players in the secondary who had four starts between them when the season began. Free safety Chris Massey started two games last year and cornerback Marcus Jones started one game each of the last two seasons. The other cornerback, Michael Cooper, is a junor-college transfer and strong safety Elbert Craig is a redshirt freshman.

"We expect 'em to get better," said Cassity. "It's an athletic group. When you have guys who have some athletic talent and are willing to learn, the expectation is to improve."

OSU's defense had better hold up because its offense, revolving around quarterback Tony Lindsay and tailback Reggie White, won't be expected to rack up many points against the visitors from Hattiesburg, Miss. The Cowboys scored only two TDs against Southwest Texas, despite seven ventures inside the 30-yard line.

"This is the kind of game that you really need your defense to be a mainstay," said Simmons.

The Cowboys are holding their breath in hopes Porter will be available. But if he isn't, defensive end Zac Akin claims it won't be a killer blow.

"The confidence blow we had was right before the Tulsa game," said Akins. "It was like, man, we lost our captain, one of our leaders. It was a blow then. We want Alvin back, but if he doesn't come back, we'll adapt."

Charlie Smith is a free-lance writer based in Tulsa, Okla.