Don’t look away before the final second of the game. For the third time in four games this season, the outcome of Nebraska’s game wasn’t determined until the final play.
After building an early lead, the Huskers faltered in the second half against Southern Miss, allowing the Golden Eagles to get back into the game. In the end, Nebraska held on to win 36-28. But the victory was not secured until a sack by Freedom Akinmoladun on the final snap.
“I guess it’s really true,” Coach Mike Riley said following the game. “It’s never easy.”
Nebraska dominated the first half, leading 22-0 at halftime. The first two quarters were filled with missed opportunities though. Nebraska settled for five field goals on drives that moved into Southern Miss territory.
“We played pretty well early but we didn’t’ capitalize in the red zone with touchdowns,” Riley said. “It seems like those things are destined to come back and haunt you.”
The missed opportunities did come back to play a factor in the game. Two second-half turnovers aided Southern Miss’s comeback, and Brown missed two field goal attempts in the second half as well. After the Golden Eagles scored early in the fourth quarter to cut Nebraska’s lead to 29-14, they converted an onside kick and scored on the ensuing position to make it a one-score game.
The two teams traded touchdowns later in the quarter and after a missed field goal, Southern Miss got the ball with only 29 second remaining, trailing by only eight points. After two long completions to move inside Nebraska territory, the Eagles’ hopes were dashed by Freedom Akinmoladun’s second sack of the game.
“I was on Maliek’s (Collins) side. That definitely helped me,” Akinmoladun said. “The offensive line paid a lot of attention to him, and when I got off the ball, I saw the opportunity I had, and I made the sack.”
Offensively, Nebraska has led by quarterback Tommy Armstrong with 368 yards passing. Armstrong moved into fifth place on the career passing list for Nebraska quarterbacks. Add on 63 yards rushing and Armstrong accounted for a career high 431 yards of total offense.
“I’m happy we got a win, but I’m not satisfied at all,” Armstrong said following the game. “When we’re in the red zone or when we have a chance to score to got to make sure we put points on the board.”
One highlight for Husker fans was the play of fullback Andy Janovich. In a throwback feel to Nebraska’s past, the fullback carried five times for 68 yards, including two carries of more than 20 yards. Riley and Offensive Coordinator Danny Langsdorf noted the atmosphere’s change when Janovich got his first carry.
“It was pretty crazy when he popped that first one,” Langsdorf said. “I think people were relatively pleased with giving him the ball. A little different vibe.”
Other highlights for Nebraska included the five first-half field goals for kicker Drew Brown, which tied an NCAA record for most field goals in one half of a game. Brown’s final kick of the first half set a new career long of 50 yards.
“There’s games where you’re going to kick a lot and there’s games where you’re not going to kick a lot,” said Brown. “You’ve just got to be ready for whatever opportunity comes in front of you.”
Nebraska closes non-conference play with a 2-2 record and now heads in the conference play. The Huskers open up the Big Ten schedule on the road next Saturday against Illinois. Kickoff has been set for 2:30pm.