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Nebraska Defeats Southern Miss 36-28: Get Your Takes While They Are Hot

When a win feels like a loss, but still counts as a win.

Eric Francis/Getty Images

The Huskers evened up their record to 2-2 but is trying hard to create the most bi-polar defense in the country and wants to hoard all the penalties to boot.

At this point folks, get used to this. This is what this team is for 2015. Sloppy, undisciplined, never dominant, but never gives up. This is a recipe for heartburn-inducing scores as we enter B1G play. It should not be a big surprise that this team is still struggling to find an identity with new coaches and a new system, but the huge defensive breakdowns are alarming. However, one third of the way through the season the best we can hope for is band-aids. There won't be any big schematic changes or shifts in philosophy.

All of the pre-season analysis pointed toward a defensive scheme that was the polar opposite of the Pelini one. Boy is it ever. Instead of watching Wisconsin running backs run all over the field, we are watching all the quarterbacks fling it around at will.

Also, ESPN #Fail.

First Half - Good Defense; Good But Not Dominant Offense

The offense was moving the ball and scored on all six first half possessions but too-often stalled in the red zone; settling for 5 field goals. This game should have been over by the half, but the Huskers went 0-6 on 3rd down conversions. They converted their only 4th down attempt.

The defense held the Golden Eagles to -14 yards rushing and 133 yards passing at the half. Some inexplicably conservative play calling by Southern Miss in the first half played into the Huskers' favor. For some reason, Monken chose not to challenge the shaky Husker pass defense deep, instead favoring short and intermediate plays. Whew.

Somewhere in the first half (I believe) another linebacker went down (we were already without Bando and Rose-Ivey) as Marcus Newby was spotted with an ice pack on one thigh. Nate Gerry also seemed to have an uncharacteristically poor showing, but he was one of the Huskers afflicted by the flue that made the rounds earlier in the week. Both of you - get well soon!

Huskers lead at the half 22-0. The Golden Eagles threatened but were held without points because of two missed field goals and a stout 4th down stand by the Blackshirts.

Third Quarter - Back and Forth

Despite a worrisome start to the Huskers' first drive, it was mostly a sloppy, penalty-filled quarter of back and forth football.  Tommy Armstrong threw an interception on the second play from scrimmage. The Eagles only took 3 plays to push it into the end zone. After that, the teams traded missed field goals and Imani Cross coughed up a fumble. Fortunately Southern Miss could not capitalize. Nebraska scored a touchdown (Taariq Allen's first of the year) to take a 29-7 lead into the 4th.

Side note: How awesome was it to see Andy Janovich emerge from the shadows? Coach Riley you rascal, you knew the quickest way to Husker fans' hearts was to call a fullback trap.

Fourth Quarter - The Wheels Come Off

Ughhh, can we just forget this quarter ever existed? You knew this Husker team seems to have one bad quarter and I held out hope that the 2nd was going to be it for today. Boy, was I wrong.

Southern Miss marched down the field, scored a touchdown, recovered an onside kick and marched again. Monken remembered that the Huskers give up lots of big plays in the pass game and called "bombs away". Two minutes and 55 seconds into the quarter, the Eagles managed two touchdowns and were within 8 points.

Sorry to beat this dead horse, but this is your weekly reminder that Nebraska now employs a full-time special teams coach. One who probably had access to the same stats I did and probably should have noticed that Southern Miss has already tried two onside kicks this season. Nebraska also got lucky on the fake punt when the pass fell incomplete (not because of good coverage, but because it was not a good throw).

There was blood in the water and we were exactly where we did not want to be  - in a fourth quarter struggle with an opponent we should have pummeled. There was some more back-and-forth football and then the Huskers marched down the field to add a "thank goodness" touchdown on an Armstrong zone read to make the score 36-21.

Southern Miss answered to bring it back within 8.  (Nebraska leads 36-18)

The Huskers then went on a six-minute drive, desperately trying to eat up clock. Drew Brown's 29 yard field goal was blocked. Two quick big pass plays got Southern Miss into Hail Mary range and Husker fans were getting the pitchforks and torches ready.  Freedom Akinmoladun came through in a big way with a sack that caused the clock to mercifully run out and preserved the Husker win.

The Huskers gave up 458 yards of total defense; 339 of that was racked up by Southern Miss in the second half. Of that 458 yards, 447 of it was through the air. Yikes.

It was ugly. It was not satisfying. But it was a win. Next up, Illinois and probably one of the few quarterbacks in the B1G that is capable of doing serious damage through the air (Wes Lunt). The Huskers better find some band-aids for the pass defense and find some ways to avoid playing flat at either the start of the game or at the start of the second half.

I am anxious to see how these coaches respond. I am pretty sure these players are more talented than what we are seeing, on defense especially. Can the coaches push the right buttons and fix some of these little mistakes that keep adding up to big problems? That is the $64,000 question.

Some trivia:

--Drew Brown's five first-half field goals set a career high and tied and NCAA record for most field goals in a half. Nebraska's Dale Klein (1985 at Missouri) and New Mexico State's Dat Ly (1988 at Kansas) also made five field goals in a half. Klein connected on seven field goals in that game, tying an NCAA record.

--Jordan Westerkamp's first-quarter touchdown catch marked his fifth straight game with a touchdown reception. The streak is one shy of Johnny Rodgers' school record of six straight games with a touchdown catch.

--Tommy Armstrong Jr. passed for 213 yards in the first half, pushing his season total past the 1,000-yard mark. He is just the second player in school history to pass for 1,000 yards in the first four games of the season. Armstrong has passed for at least 200 yards in seven straight games.

--Armstrong's passing total also moved him into the top five on the NU career passing list. He moved past Jerry Tagge in the first half of today's game.

--Andy Janovich's 25-yard run was his first carry since 2012, and a career-long rush for Janovich. His 53-yard reception was a career-long, bettering a 16-yard reception last season. That 53-yard pass play was Nebraska's longest play from scrimmage this season.