GAME NOTES: The 22nd-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers continue their five-game season-opening homestand on Saturday night as they welcome the Southern Miss Golden Eagles to Memorial Stadium.
USM enjoyed the luxury of opening the 2013 season at home, but it fell flat against Texas State, blowing a fourth-quarter lead on its way to a 22-15 setback.
"We got what we deserved. We deserved that loss," USM head coach Todd Monken said. "You can't drop footballs. You can't turn (the ball) over. You're not going to win."
Nebraska came into this season with high expectations after posting an impressive 10-3 record a year ago, and while it got this new campaign started with a win, it was anything but impressive. At home, the Cornhuskers allowed Wyoming to climb back into the game late in the fourth quarter before narrowly escaping with a 37-34 victory.
"We're one and zero and I'm happy we're one and zero," head coach Bo Pelini said. "Obviously, we've got a lot of work to do. I was expecting a lot cleaner performance, but by no means am I panicking because I also saw some good things."
The Cornhuskers carry a 13-game home winning streak against non-conference opponents into this contest.
Nebraska most recently defeated Southern Miss in the 2012 season opener, 49-20, to give it a 3-1 lead in the all-time series.
The USM offense hit on a few big plays in the opener, which helped it amass 400 yards, but it was still a sluggish performance overall. The unit was just 5-of-20 on third downs (0-of-4 on fourth downs), and scored on only two of its four red zone possessions.
Allan Bridgford was busy in the defeat, completing 28-of-53 pass attempts for 377 yards, including a six-yard scoring strike to James Cox in the third quarter, but his two interceptions proved costly.
Rickey Bradley shined in his debut, finishing with seven receptions for 193 yards. Tyre'oune Holmes was also a beast in the passing game, catching 12 balls for 96 yards.
The rushing attack was virtually non-existent for the Golden Eagles, as they averaged less than one yard per carry. Kendrick Hardy led the way with 27 yards.
Even though USM's defense allowed the game-winning touchdown late, it was still an impressive performance for the unit as it held the Bobcats to just 207 total yards.
Alan Howze racked up nine tackles on the evening with 2.5 TFL. Dasman McCullum added two TFL and a fumble recovery, while Octavius Thomas recorded the team's only sack.
Even though Nebraska finished its opener having put up 530 total yards while scoring touchdowns on 4-of-5 red zone possessions, the squad committed a couple of late turnovers, and the performance did not live up to Pelini's lofty standards.
"We were very inefficient on offense," Pelini said. "We didn't get a rhythm going all game. I understand we didn't have a lot to go off of as far as what to expect, but we didn't play well at any phase of the game."
It's hard to imagine Pelini was expecting a better performance out of his running game, which tallied 375 yards. Ameer Abdullah (114 yards) and Imani Cross (105 yards, two TDs) both topped the century mark, while Taylor Martinez (80 yards) and Terrell Newby (76 yards) were also effective.
Martinez was efficient as a passer as well, completing 17-of-22 attempts for 155 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
Quincy Enunwa finished with just three receptions for 27 yards but managed to reel in two of Martinez's scoring strikes. Jamal Turner (four receptions, 43 yards) caught a 17-yard touchdown in the first quarter, and Kenny Ball led all receivers with seven grabs and 57 yards.
The biggest issue for the Cornhuskers in their first game was the disastrous play of the defense. Even though Wyoming spent just 24 minutes on offense, it torched Nebraska to the tune of 602 total yards.
Fortunately for the unit, a pair of interceptions by Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans helped bail it out of trouble. David Santos picked up 12 tackles in the victory.
The Cornhuskers will need to address their defensive deficiencies in a hurry if they expect to be legitimate contenders in the Big Ten, and USM has its share of playmakers to take advantage of their shortcomings. In the end, however, Nebraska's offense is still supremely talented and it should have no problem outscoring the Golden Eagles.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Nebraska 42, Southern Miss 24