LINCOLN — Joe Dailey said it was his fault. The ball sailed to the corner of the end zone, the crowd erupted, and a Southern Mississippi hand delivered one last swat.
The offensive linemen said it was everybody's fault. After five turnovers, maybe their fingers were too tired to point.
"You know what? I blew it today,'' Dailey said after his three interceptions helped Southern Miss stun Nebraska 21-17 Saturday. "I can't lie. I can't dress it up. It was all on me. I turned the ball over four times. I'm the quarterback. I'm supposed to take care of the ball.
"It's my fault, and it's all on me.''
A song from Barnum and Bailey's circus played as Southern Miss' small contingent spilled onto the field and the rest of the 77,877 fans made a quick exit. It was the Huskers' first nonconference loss at home since 1991, and it exposed a young, vulnerable offense that must take its turnover issues to the road next weekend at Pittsburgh.
In eight quarters, Dailey has thrown seven interceptions. The sophomore also fumbled stretching for extra yards on a key fourth-quarter drive.
But Bill Callahan emerged from the postgame gloom sounding more like Father Flanagan than a coach who had just watched his team lose a game that it dominated in nearly every phase.
"Joe didn't have his best day, and we're all aware of that,'' Callahan said. "He's going to mature. He's going to learn from this.
"We left a lot of opportunities on the field. We're disappointed. This was a game that was there for the taking, and we gave it away. And there's nobody to look at but ourselves.''
With 37 seconds to play, it looked as if the Huskers might escape despite all the mistakes. Dailey launched a pass into the end zone, where Matt Herian, his favorite target, appeared open. But Caleb Hendrix got a hand on it and tipped the ball away, leaving Dailey with fourth down on the Southern Miss 17.
He scrambled to find a receiver, then took off running. He was chased out of bounds at the 7-yard line, five yards shy of the first down, and the crowd fell dead silent.
If you ask Southern Miss Coach Jeff Bower, the biggest play of the final drive may have come two plays earlier, when the Huskers were flagged for delay of game.
It summed up the day for Nebraska's offense: So many opportunities, so many mistakes. The Huskers had nearly twice as many yards as Southern Miss (476-239) and had a 169-yard day from I-back Cory Ross.
Ross was a bright spot for the offense, but he also had a noticeable limp after the game and took more than an hour to appear for postgame interviews because he was in the training room.
Ross said he was just "banged up'' in the knee and shoulder.
"I'm just a little sore,'' he said. "It ain't nothing.''
Back in the NU locker room, there was a different kind of hurt. Nebraska (1-1) has lost just seven games at home since 1988, and Southern Miss hadn't won a road opener since 1996.
"You could hear a pin drop in the locker room,'' NU kicker Sandro DeAngelis said. "It's tough. We feel like we not only let ourselves down but the entire state down.''
Nebraska's defense was stretched in the first quarter, coming in twice after interceptions put Southern Miss deep into Husker territory. The Golden Eagles had to settle for field goals and went into halftime with a 9-3 lead.
Callahan made some halftime adjustments, and the Huskers scored two touchdowns within five minutes to go up 17-9 with 10 minutes left in the third quarter. Nebraska was driving again as the clock was running down in the third, and Dailey wanted to get one more play in before the quarter ended. Big mistake. He launched a pass to Grant Mulkey, but Naton Stewart intercepted it and rumbled 49 yards for the touchdown.
Dailey tied a school record with 42 passes. Three of them were tipped in the first half and were near-interceptions.
But the Huskers are standing by their quarterback, a captain who was starting just his second game Saturday. At least five defensive players were brought in for the postgame, and none of them pointed fingers or said the turnovers put too much pressure on the Blackshirts.
"There was no pressure,'' NU defensive tackle Le Kevin Smith said. "Turnovers happen, and we're supposed to go out there and stop them. That's why we're the defense."
|Yards per carry||2.9||6.0|
Nebraska is 5-1 all-time against Southern Miss.
|Western Illinois||Sept. 4|
|Southern Miss||Sept. 11|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 9|
|Kansas State||Oct. 23|
|Iowa State||Nov. 6|
Nebraska has played 9 games on Sept. 11. See them all »
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