Stat of the night: Blackshirts 14, Southern Miss 13.
The old football adage is that teams show the most improvement between their first and second games. And after three games where the Blackshirts got roasted for over a mile of total offense, Nebraska needed to show major improvement tonight. And improvement is what Husker fans got.
Maybe Southern Miss is a shadow of their former "Anyone. Anywhere. Anytime." selves. A fourteen game losing streak is proof of that. But holding the Golden Eagles to 284 yards is still noteworthy.
Despite the first quarter defensive touchdowns by Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans, Southern Miss did total 132 yards of offense in that opening quarter. Honestly, was that much of an improvement? Hard to argue that, though the Pick-Six's left the defense on the field to get worn down on a warm evening. I also got the feeling that Nebraska has depended too much on the dime defense and blitzing their way into generating pressure. In the second quarter, we saw Zaire Anderson replace Mohammed Seisay, and frankly, the defense got better. And frankly, I don't think Nebraska needs to blitz as much to get pressure on the quarterback. Tonight, Randy Gregory had four official quarterback hurries, and I think he probably deserved double that unofficially.
And it's worth noting that Southern Miss only totalled 152 yards the rest of the game. True freshman Josh Banderas started in place of David Santos, who apparently fell to third-string behind Michael Rose at middle linebacker. Banderas only had three tackles, but seemed to be better in making the calls on the field.
Offensively, it was another slow start for Nebraska, and I'm growing increasingly concerned about the offensive line. 20 rushes for 96 yards in the first half isn't going to cut it. That was covered up by Taylor Martinez's passing, who completed a perfect 6 of 6 passes on third down tonight, converting five first downs in the process. Fortunately, as the game went on, the heat wore down the Southern Miss defense, and the yards started flowing for "Two Men and a Truck", as Damon Benning has coined them.
In the second half, we saw Tommy Armstrong make his long awaited debut at quarterback. Many people wonder why Tim Beck bothers with option plays in his playbook. Yes, Taylor Martinez doesn't run them very well. But Armstrong does, and does it very well. Ron Kellogg III also saw plenty of action, and frankly looked the best he's ever looked in his relief role. Maybe that goes more on the Southern Miss defense, especially after they got wore out late.
So against Southern Miss, Nebraska took an inferior team behind the woodshed and beat them down as the game progressed. It's probably what Nebraska fans expected from this game prior to last Saturday night. Maybe that Wyoming game was just a bad night. Or maybe Wyoming is actually a decent team; while Nebraska was blasting the Golden Eagles, the Cowboys beat Idaho 42-10. Brett Smith threw for 295 yards and four touchdowns while Shaun Wick rushed for 110 yards.
Either way, we'll get a better idea how good Nebraska is next Saturday when UCLA comes to Lincoln. The good news is that the weather probably won't be nearly as hot, especially since Nebraska will be wearing those black uniforms for an 11 am kick. The Weather Channel currently calls for an afternoon high of 79, which sounds downright refreshing after the first two games.