Nebraska Football: Previewing the Southern Mississippi Game
Finally the players get to put on their pads, lace up their cleats and Husker Nation will be dressed in red as the Nebraska Cornhuskers begin their 2012 season Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Like it says in the fight song, “There is no place like Nebraska…” No words could be truer on game day in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Nebraska usually opens their season with a couple of tune-up games, before the serious talent appears on their schedule. That is not the case in 2012.
Nebraska begins their season against the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles.
Last season Southern Mississippi was the Conference USA champions with a record of 12-2. They ended their season with a win over Nevada in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
Southern Mississippi has gone to 10 consecutive bowl games, but the Golden Eagles only return 10 starters from last year’s team.
Their head coach from last season, Larry Fedora, left to take the head coaching position at North Carolina. New head coach Ellis Johnson was on the opposite sideline in Nebraska’s last football game. Johnson was the defensive coach for South Carolina in 2011 (Nebraska lost to South Carolina, 30-13, in the Capital One Bowl).
While Southern Mississippi is an upgrade over the teams Nebraska has began their seasons against in the recent past, the Cornhuskers will match up well against the Golden Eagles on Saturday.
Here is a breakdown of how Nebraska and Southern Mississippi match up against each other….
Nebraska’s Offense vs. Southern Mississippi’s Defense
Eric Francis/Getty Images
Last year was an up-and-down season for Nebraska’s offense. The Cornhuskers ranked No. 66 in total offense, averaging 380 yards per game. The offense should be much better this season in their second year of offensive coordinator Tim Beck’s system.
Quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead are back to lead the Cornhuskers offense in 2012. Nebraska has more depth at wide receiver than it has had in the past, but it also has an offensive line that is patched together.
Southern Mississippi will use a 4-2-5 defensive alignment. The weakness of Southern Mississippi’s defense is their front six, where the Golden Eagles only return one starter (linebacker Jamie Collins).
The strength of the Southern Mississippi defense is their secondary. The Golden Eagles return three starters from a pass defense that was good last season. Do not expect the Cornhuskers to test the secondary of Southern Mississippi much on Saturday.
Nebraska has a clear edge in this matchup.
It will take time for Nebraska’s offensive line to come together and play as a unit, but Southern Mississippi could be the perfect opponent for the Cornhuskers offensive line to begin the season against.
Cornhusker fans have waited impatiently for their team to go back to a run-heavy offense. They will get what they wanted on Saturday. Southern Mississippi will get a heavy dose of Burkhead and Martinez running the ball.
Nebraska’s offense will be too much for the young Southern Mississippi front six.
Nebraska’s Defense vs. Southern Mississippi’s Offense
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
The Blackshirts defense lost some key players from their 2011 team. Defensive tackle Jared Crick, linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard all left for the NFL.
Even with the lost of three star players from the 2011 team, the Blackshirts will be better in 2012 because of their depth.
Nebraska’s defense will be led by defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler, linebacker Will Compton and safety Damion Stafford. Nebraska will rotate many players into the lineup to keep players fresh and utilize each player’s strength.
Southern Mississippi lost their star quarterback Austin Davis to graduation. There was a three-way battle for the starting quarterback position, and it looks like junior Chris Campbell will earn the start against Nebraska.
The player to watch on the Southern Mississippi offense is wide receiver Tracy Lampley. Last season, Lampley was the backup running back and still had 47 receptions and four touchdowns. This season, Lampley moves to his natural wide receiver position.
The Golden Eagles will use a stable of running backs to try and move the ball on the ground while their new quarterback gets his feet under him. Leading this group will be senior Desmond Johnson.
Last season, Southern Mississippi had the No. 17-ranked offense in the country. The unit lost too many players to be that good this year.
While Nebraska’s defense is getting better, Southern Mississippi’s offense is in a rebuilding year. Last season, Nebraska played a bend-but-don’t-break defense. This year, the Blackshirts will return to the swarming defense that Cornhuskers fans are used to under head coach Bo Pelini.
Nebraska will win this matchup, but Southern Mississippi will move the ball enough to put some points on the board.
Eric Francis/Getty Images
The strength of Nebraska’s team in 2012 is their defense. The Cornhuskers have one of the best kickers in the country in Brett Maher and a dynamic kick returner in Ameer Abdullah.
Last season, Southern Mississippi’s placekicker, Danny Hrapmann was a Lou Groza Award finalist (given to the best placekicker in the country). This season, the Golden Eagles will be looking for a new placekicker. Southern Mississippi does return their star kick returner, Tracy Lampley.
Nebraska will have the edge in special teams on Saturday.
It will be interesting to see what the Cornhuskers' plan is in the return game. Abdullah ranked No. 9 in the country in kickoff return average last season. Nebraska may use wide receivers Tim Marlowe, Jamal Turner or running back Imani Cross as returners to keep Abdullah fresh at running back.
Eric Francis/Getty Images
If this game was played in 2011, Nebraska would have a difficult time beating Southern Mississippi. The Golden Eagles lost too many players to graduation to be able to come into Memorial Stadium and defeat the Cornhuskers.
Nebraska will impress the fans on Saturday as the Cornhuskers try to return to the dominant team they once were.
Nebraska will win the game, 34-14.
Line: Nebraska is favored by 19.5, according to Caesars/Harrah's (h/t Vegas Insider).
Follow me on Twitter @HuskerMagic