After giving up over a mile in total offense in the last three games, Nebraska's defense held Southern Miss to less than half of the average during that stretch: 284 to be exact. The improvement was even more dramatic, as the Blackshirts held the Eagles to just 152 yards in the last three quarters. Even more importantly, the two defensive scores were more than they gave up. Does this mean that all is right with the Blackshirts now?
Not really. Southern Miss has now lost 14 straight games. The Eagles aren't a very good football team right now. But it does show improvement; Nebraska stopped the bleeding, and corrected some of the mistakes on defense. Now we get a big test with UCLA coming to Lincoln for a morning kickoff in a nationally televised game on ABC. (On ESPN2 in Oklahoma, apparently.)
But before that, let's review the Huskers report card against Southern Miss. As always, your feedback is always encouraged!
QB: Taylor Martinez's numbers don't look that great on the box score, but look deeper than 15 for 23 passing for 170 yards, plus 34 yards rushing. But here's the most telling stat to me: 6 for 6 passing on third down, converting five first downs in the process. That's coming through when needed. It was great to see both Ron Kellogg and Tommy Armstrong both get into the game early in the game. Kellogg looked smoother and more comfortable than he ever has, especially on that 9 yard scramble. ("Move Ref, Get outta the way! Get outta the way, Ref, Get Outta the way!") That may say more about the Southern Miss defense than Kellogg, though. Many people have wondered why Tim Beck has option plays in the playbook when Martinez doesn't run them very well. Well, it's because Armstrong does...and if he's ever needed, the rest of the offense needs to be ready to run them as well. Grade: B
RB: Damon Benning has named them "Two Men and a Truck". We all know who the truck is...and while he only got 4 carries, Imani Cross did have another multiple-tackle-breaking run. Ameer Abdullah had his usual workmanlike performance with the big highlight reel run. Terrell Newby had a nice day, fumble aside. Not sure I've ever seen a stiff-arm draw a personal foul penalty; I suspect that's the result of the new rule that if a player's helmet comes off, he must leave the game unless a penalty is called. Grade: B.
WR: Quincy Enunwa has always been a devastating downfield blocker, but now he's a devastating downfield receiving target. He makes the catch in traffic, and after he makes the catch, it'll take multiple defenders to haul him down. So what are you going to do to cover the trio of Enunwa, Kenny Bell, and Jamal Turner? Then we got to see some of the other young guys: Jordan Westerkamp made his first catch. Sam Burtch got on the same page as Martinez and got his first as well. Grade: A-
OL: Maybe it's just me, but the blocking up front just didn't seem crisp. Some of the offense's early struggles were more the result of bad field position, but still, I expected more out of the offense, and I'm putting that on the line. Especially in pass protection, which continues to be an issue. Grade: C
DL: Some might not be satisfied with just one sack. They should have been pleased with seven quarterback hurries. And considering that the official count was rather conservative, people should be very pleased with the performance of the defensive line. Let's start with sophomore defensive end Randy Gregory, who becoming quite the beast on the pass rush. I'm seeing lots of encouraging signs all over the front four from players who were playing just their second college game. Early in the game, Bo Pelini and John Papuchis tried to dial up pressure with blitzes that typically left receivers uncovered. If anything, that approach backfired as they realized that the front four were creating pressure without any help. But again, this was Southern Miss. We'll learn more in future games...but for this week, it looks pretty encouraging. Grade: B+
LB: If Josh Banderas really "dropped a load in his pants" when he learned he was starting, clearing out his system sure helped. He wasn't so much a playmaker in this game as a director. That's an encouraging sign that a true freshman can step in and fill that role. Zaire Anderson got into the game in the second half, and made an impact in his limited snaps: 3 tackles, 2 for loss, and a quarterback hurry. I'd like to see more of Anderson, and a little less of the dime with Mo Seisay when facing spread teams. Grade: B-
Secondary: Nebraska's three cornerbacks played a great game. Yes, I said three. Ciante Evans (two interceptions, one for a touchdown) and Stanley Jean-Baptiste (pick-six on the third play of the game) made the highlight reels, but three of Josh Mitchell's five tackles were for loss. Starting safeties Harvey Jackson (seven tackles) and Corey Cooper (four tackles and an interception) played much better this week. Good bounce-back performance this week. Grade: A
Overall: Grade B. A workmanlike performance against an overmatched opponent.
Elsewhere in College Football
Texas: F Yes, Nebraska fans don't have much room to ridicule other teams for not being able to stop the run, but hey, at least that's Wisconsin's bread-and-butter.
Southern Cal: F Even Michigan State's quarterbacks thought that Cody Kessler had a rough game.
Kansas: D The Jayhawks got their annual victory over a 1-AA team from South Dakota. Now, the focus turns to basketball season.
Wyoming: A Maybe the Cowboys are going to be a decent team this season. They pounded Idaho 42-10.
Michigan State: D Ooooh, that defense! Ewwww, that offense! The Spartans defense has now scored twice as many touchdowns as their offense, and that's against two of the worst teams in division 1-A.
Illinois: A Where did THAT come from? One week after surviving 1-AA Southern Illinois, the Illini take Cincinnati to the woodshed.