Game Day: Nebraska vs. Southern Miss

Hole new mentality

Two plays. A final-second Hail Mary and an overtime improvisation gone awry. One could look at the decisive moments of Nebraska’s two defeats and conclude the 2015 narrative through three weeks hinged on BYU’s 42-yard heave and a Miami interception. But the what-if game can be dangerous. Some of the facts get neglected among the hypotheticals, and a team like NU can end up ignoring reality.

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2-Minute Drill by Rich Kaipust

Nebraska rush offense vs. Southern Miss rush defense

Nebraska could use a repeat of two weeks ago, when Terrell Newby went wild against South Alabama and the run game clicked to the tune of 258 yards and 7.0 per carry. Last week wasn’t awful, with 5.9 yards on the rushing attempts that weren’t sacks, but an immediate 17-0 deficit helped lead to 45 passes. Southern Miss got gashed for 281 rushing yards last week at Texas State.

Nebraska pass offense vs. Southern Miss pass defense

Tommy Armstrong salvaged a potential rough day against Miami with some of his comeback throws, and the junior notched his second 300-yard game of the season (and four TDs). Armstrong, though, had to work around six drops, constant pressure and three completions negated by penalties. Southern Miss will try to get after him, but opponents are completing 62.7 percent of their passes against the Golden Eagles and have been intercepted just once.

Southern Miss rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

Defending the run hasn’t been the Huskers’ problem, with no team netting more than 132 yards and their first three opponents averaging a combined 3.4 per carry. They will miss linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey and his efficiency, so that's something to watch. Southern Miss will use Jalen Richard and Ito Smith at tailback, and Richard is coming off a 230-yard, four-TD game at Texas State. NU will try to take away that threat first.

Southern Miss pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

Nowhere does Nebraska need to get better more than here, and Southern Miss won’t make it easy to do. Junior quarterback Nick Mullens is completing 64 percent of his passes and already has thrown for 919 yards and eight TDs. If the Huskers can’t generate some pressure, don’t get improved play in coverage and get caught in some mismatches — all familiar themes to recent weeks — another big number could be coming.

Special teams

Neither team is tearing it up, although Nebraska has gotten a boost from Drew Brown making his last three field goals, Jordan Westerkamp showing some spark on a few punt returns at Miami and now punter Sam Foltz being a week healthier. The Huskers have been pretty good on their coverage units, especially kickoffs, which happens to be the one area where Southern Miss has sampled some success.

Intangibles

Nebraska again finds itself needing to summon a response after a tough loss, so the first quarter might tell a little about the Huskers’ state of mind. They better have a sense of urgency with the Big Ten season a week away. Both teams have negative turnover margins and are fighting penalty problems, so a wash there. This is a new Southern Miss team, but the last two that visited Lincoln recently lost by 43 and 29.

Key matchup: NU cornerbacks vs. Southern Miss WR Casey Martin

It’s no secret that Nebraska cornerbacks have had issues in coverage, and Martin is the next test. The senior already has 17 receptions through three games after catching 55 passes a year ago. NU coach Mike Riley said the Huskers would evaluate their secondary personnel this week. Might there be changes?

Our take

Every game could be an adventure until Nebraska gets some of its defensive problems (and injuries) cleaned up. The good news is that the offense, albeit sometimes inconsistent, has showed signs of being able to captain the ship in the meantime. No gimme here for the Huskers, with Southern Miss maybe back on the right track under Todd Monken, so maybe a big week for the captains and upperclassmen to make sure the right focus is there.

Our prediction: Nebraska 52, Southern Miss 27

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