Game Day: Nebraska vs. Southern Miss

Can't touch this

Even after a week of soul-searching, the Husker coaches are expressing steadfast confidence that the defense will take a big step forward. More than 90,000 fans at Memorial Stadium and a Big Ten Network audience await improvement against a Golden Eagles offense that scored 15 points in a loss to Texas State. With reporters swarming them this week, defensive coaches said they await it, too. They peered pragmatically — and, at times, confidently — at the road ahead after Nebraska gave up 602 yards and 35 first downs against Wyoming.

2-Minute Drill by Rich Kaipust

Nebraska rush offense vs. Southern Miss rush defense

Nebraska put up a sound number last week, running for 375 yards (and 6.0 per carry). It also spread out 47 carries among I-backs Ameer Abdullah, Imani Cross and Terrell Newby, with fresh legs a chance to be a factor again. Southern Miss allowed Texas State a net 73 rushing yards last week, but this is a different kind of challenge for the Golden Eagles. Edge: NU

Nebraska pass offense vs. Southern Miss pass defense

Taylor Martinez takes another shot at USM after scorching the Golden Eagles for 354 yards and five touchdowns a year ago. The Huskers didn't get too fancy against Wyoming as Martinez went 17 of 22, and took few chances downfield. Martinez finished with 155 yards -- his only game lower last season was at Iowa in the cold -- but did connect on three TDs. Edge: NU

Southern Miss rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

The lost yardage from three sacks last week helped keep the Golden Eagles' rushing total to just 23 yards. If they can't get anything established running the ball -- or don't really try -- they could be throwing it 50-plus times again. That would make it easy on a Husker defense that got gouged at times by Wyoming, especially up the middle. Edge: NU

Southern Miss pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

The Golden Eagles go from one of the worst passing units in Conference USA to an intriguing attack with coach Todd Monken and QB Allan Bridgford. The Cal transfer passed for 377 yards last week, and receivers Tyre'oune Holmes and Rickey Bradley combined for 19 catches and 289 yards. Some pressure might be needed to keep them from playing catch. Edge: Southern Miss

Special teams

Other than a failed PAT, NU got off to a good start. Its kick coverage included four touchbacks and three returns to the 18, 22 and 17. Redshirt freshman punter Sam Foltz was sharp, and Kenny Bell put a little pizzazz in the kick-return game with 37- and 35-yarders. The Eagles have a pair of returners to watch in Jalen Richard and Emmanuel Johnson. Edge: NU

Intangibles

NU plays at home (the game was moved from Hattiesburg). UCLA is on deck, but the Huskers should be zoned in after last week's finish. USM is heading into its second game under Monken, the former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator. Some Eagles have been to Lincoln before, but that was a 49-20 wipeout last year. Edge: NU

Key matchup: NU defensive line vs. Southern Miss offensive line

A number of Nebraska defensive linemen, including Avery Moss (left) and Vincent Valentine (center), got either their first or most significant playing time as Huskers last week. The reviews were about as mixed as you might expect. Here's the difference Saturday night: Southern Miss likely isn't going to be able to generate the same kind of run game as Wyoming, and quarterback Allan Bridgford probably won't be as slippery as Brett Smith. So the job should be easier for that front four.

Nebraska wins if ...

It stays on track offensively and shores up some of its defensive flaws.

Southern Miss wins if ...

Senior QB Allan Bridgford can repeat some of what Brett Smith did to the Huskers.

Our take

There was some hand-wringing after the close call last week, but we'll give NU a clean slate and see if it can put together a more complete effort. USM, which has lost 13 straight games, committed six turnovers last week, so it has more than its own issues. Gaining some momentum and positive vibes will be a must with UCLA coming next week.

Our prediction: Nebraska 46, Southern Mississippi 23

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Extras

BRT Podcast

Jon Nyatawa and Sam McKewon analyze the breakdowns in Nebraska’s season-opening win over Wyoming. Nothing seemed to go as planned for the Huskers Saturday. The two Husker beat writers examine what might have caused the close call, while pondering a few possible structural changes NU could make along the way. Click here »

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