MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Many of the bowl games already played this season have been high-scoring affairs. Cal beat Virginia Tech 52-49 in the Insight Bowl. Houston scored 48 — and still lost to Hawaii by six points in the Hawaii Bowl. Other examples include N.C. State producing 56 points against Kansas, Oregon State dropping 55 on New Mexico and Miami (Ohio) putting 49 on the board vs. Louisville.

That doesn't mean, however, that today's Liberty Bowl between Utah and Southern Mississippi will follow suit. After all, defense has been the strength of both teams this season.

Still, Southern Mississippi coach Jeff Bower thinks he understands why many offenses have done so well thus far in the postseason.

"I've been looking at some of the bowls, and it's clear guys have been away from the speed of the games since their last regular-season game, and one thing that sticks out is that they don't tackle very well. That's going to be a real key for us. We need to tackle well."

Golden Eagles linebacker Rod Davis agrees that the long time off between games can be a problem for timing.

"During that first quarter (of a bowl), the speed of the game is so much faster than practice that you can get overwhelmed," said Davis. "You just need to go out there and tackle well and be consistent with everybody doing their jobs."

Then again, Utah has had little problem playing strong defense in its last couple of bowl games with current defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham in charge. The Ute defense dominated Carson Palmer and USC in the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl, a 10-6 Utah win. The Trojans managed only one yard rushing and 150 yards of total offense.

The Utes were good defensively in the 1999 Vegas Bowl as well, giving up just 16 points and 279 yards of total offense to a potent Fresno State offense.

It's been Utah's offense that has struggled in recent bowls. The Utes have averaged just 13.3 points per game in their last four bowls appearances. Amazingly, Utah is 3-1 in those four games.

OF COUGARS AND UTES: The Utah and Southern Mississippi fans at Tuesday's Liberty Bowl parade did some good-natured ribbing back and forth. When the Southern Miss marching band and cheerleaders paraded past, many Ute fans turned around with their backs to the parade, ignoring the performances.

Southern Miss fans got a chant going, "What's a Ute? What's a Ute?" That didn't seem to get many Ute boosters' blood boiling, so they brought out the heavy artillery.

Eagles fans then started chanting "BYU, BYU, BYU" fully knowing that their opponent was Utah, not their rivals from Provo.

For some reason, that one seemed to get under the Ute fans' skin.

NOW THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT: The game won't be the only reason for being at the Liberty Bowl. Several notable singing performances are on tap.

First off, actress Cybill Shepherd is scheduled to sing the national anthem. Recording artist Lou Rawls and "American Idol" finalist Treynece — who, like Cher and Madonna, needs no last name — will also perform at halftime.

ESPN JINX? The game will be televised by ESPN — which can't be a good sign for the Utes. Utah has done well on ABC over the years, going 6-2-1. The Utes have even been solid in games televised by ESPN2, with a 7-4 mark.

But ESPN games have been a different story. The Utes are just 1-6 all-time on the nation's first all-sports cable network.

Then again, they might have already killed the ESPN curse. The lone win came earlier this year against California.

Utah bowl history

1938 Sun Bowl — defeated New Mexico, 26-0

1946 Pineapple Bowl — lost to Hawaii, 19-16

1964 Liberty Bowl — defeated West Virginia, 32-6

1992 Copper Bowl — lost to Washington State, 31-28

1993 Freedom Bowl — lost to Utah State, 28-21

1994 Freedom Bowl — defeated Arizona, 16-13

1996 Copper Bowl — lost to Wisconsin, 38-10

1999 Las Vegas Bowl — defeated Fresno State, 17-16

2001 Las Vegas Bowl — defeated USC, 10-6

2003 Liberty Bowl — today vs. Southern Mississippi


E-MAIL: lojo@desnews.com