What a difference between two games.
Just one week ago, coaches and players were down on themselves. A 37-34 win over Wyoming may have well been a loss. Morale was down and blame was on a lack of execution and communication.
Tonight, a different result and mindset. Nebraska defeated… no, thrashed Southern Mississippi in all aspects of the game Saturday night. When all was said and done, Huskers win by a final of 56-13.
Last week, the Blackshirts allowed over 600 yards of offense – the eighth most in school history. Tonight, 284 yards… most of those yards coming in the fourth quarter. Defensive coach John Papuchis said all week that he wanted to make the Golden Eagles one dimensional. The defense accomplished that, shutting down the run (62 rushing yards) and forcing Southern Miss to live or die by the pass.
Die by the pass they did. Nebraska made them pay… early and often.
Three plays into the game, Stanley John-Baptiste read and timed a route to perfection for a pick six (47-yards). Ciante Evans would snag a second pick six (22-yards) later in the first quarter. It is the first time that has happened since the Idaho game in 2010. Evans and Corey Cooper would later add to the interception total of four for the game.
“(The coaching staff) did a great job of preparing our guys to play in a positive way,” Papuchis says. “Teaching from the things that need to be taught from last week and building on all the experiences we had.”
The young guys also stepped up big in this game for the defense. Freshman Josh Banderas, getting the start at mike linebacker, had a big game to start his career at three tackles. Following the game, coaches were very high on what Banderas accomplished.
“It was a dream come true for me.” Banderas says. After all, he is following in the footsteps of his father who also played at Nebraska.
Harvey Jackson lead all Huskers with seven tackles, one for a loss.
It was the same story on offense. Everything seemed to click and the young guys got their opportunities. Taylor Martinez was 15-of-23 for 170 yards and three touchdowns, including a 26-yard touchdown pass to Sam Burtch – another young guy getting playing time – in the third quarter. Martinez’ day was completed at the end of that touchdown pass, setting the stage for a Tommy Armstrong debut.
It was an impressive debut: four carries for 23 yards. While he did not thrown the ball, the redshirt freshman says he was nervous at first… but got over those nerves on the first snap.
When asked if he likes to run the option, Armstrong answered with a resounding yes.
Senior quarterback Ron Kellogg III also got some playing time, going 4-of-5 for 24 yards.
For the second week in a row, one thing was consistent. The running game was impressive. Ameer Abdullah rushed for a second 100-plus yards game (17 carries, 116 yards) and two touchdowns. Terrell Newby, another young player that has impressed coaches, rushed for 60 yards in 8 carries.
“I thought we made good progress, we did a lot of good things out there tonight,” Head coach Bo Pelini says. “By no means are we the finished product… I saw a lot of progress.”
Looking ahead: UCLA
Yes, next week’s game will be the first big test of the season. The Bruins enjoyed a bye week after stomping Nevada 58-20 the previous week. Quarterback Brett Hundley is considered one of the best quarterbacks in the PAC-10. So is running back Jordon James, who reminds many fans of Johnathan Franklin last season.
Husker fans remember Franklin, the guy that dominated the Blackshirts’ line in last season’s loss.
“We want to get them back for what happened last year.” Wide receiver Quincy Enunwa says. Several other players echoed that statement throughout post-game interviews.
It’s simple for Nebraska. Enjoy the win, but do not become too complacent and get back to work. UCLA will be a huge test for the Blackshirts.