Southern Miss at No. 17 Nebraska: Grades for the Cornhuskers' Win vs. the Eagles
Nebraska opens the season against Southern Miss, the defending Conference USA champions. Before the game, this looked like a sterner test for Nebraska than games like Western Kentucky and Tennessee-Chattanooga.
But, Nebraska flexed the muscles of a new-look offense and pulled away for a dominating 49-20 victory. So, let's take a look, unit-by-unit, and analyze how Nebraska did in the victory.
Well, let's see. Taylor Martinez went 26-of-34 for 354 yards and five touchdowns. He had no interceptions (although there were a couple close calls), didn't fumble and didn't make the bonehead play that has haunted him throughout his career.
Forget Kansas State and Oklahoma State, this was Martinez's best performance for Nebraska. Ron Kellogg III got some garbage time in as backup, as well.
Think about this. Nebraska logged 278 yards rushing with Rex Burkhead going down in the first quarter with an MCL injury. Ameer Abdullah picked up the slack, and the Children of the Corn were introduced to bruisers Mike Marrow and Imani Cross.
Braylon Heard's willingness to swap positions paid dividends as he provided needed depth and got himself a touchdown.
Still, let's not kid ourselves. Get well soon, Rex.
Eleven Nebraska players caught a pass from Taylor Martinez against the Golden Eagles—11. Quincy Enunwa led the way with six grabs for 70 yards, and Jamal Turner got back on the field and demonstrated why people were so excited to see him last season.
Last year, there was concern that Kyler Reed would fall victim to Mike McNeil syndrome, a tight end who had a breakout year then disappeared.
Little danger of that on today's evidence, as Reed hauled in five catches for 57 yards and a touchdown. Ben Cotton got in on the act as well, with one catch for five yards.
Nebraska ran for 354 yards, most of that without Rex Burkhead. Taylor Martinez threw 34 passes and was sacked only once. Nebraska was not flagged for a false start or holding penalty, even with NU running quite a bit of no-huddle.
Offensive line coach and favorite fan target Barney Cotton should get a week's worth despite the work from message-board guy.
At times, Nebraska's front four struggles with Southern Mississippi's spread attack.
Bo Pelini did some different things with the line, including sending Cameron Meredith so far wide that it appeared Nebraska was in a three-man front and playing four defensive ends at a time.
Nebraska played almost the entire game in a nickel/peso set, with Ciante Evans playing the role of hybrid. But, Will Compton and Alonzo Whaley were strong against the run, and Compton was able to get into the backfield and pressure the Golden Eagles' quarterback.
The linebackers did struggle in pass coverage, although the Southern Miss quarterbacks weren't accurate enough to make NU pay a price for it.
The secondary did not have a tremendous amount of work, given that Southern Miss only threw 19 passes. Still, Daimion Stafford led the way with the secondary in run support.
The first half is one Nebraska's entire special teams unit would prefer you forget. Brett Maher missed two field goals, sent a kickoff out of bounds and badly shanked a punt.
Nebraska's kick-return team gave up a 101-yard touchdown to keep Southern Miss within striking distance until just before the first half.
Maher's performance improved dramatically in the second half, and Nebraska returners Ameer Abdullah, Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner all looked very dangerous.
No turnovers. Two penalties and one of them was a shaky offensive pass-interference call. A no-huddle attack that worked almost seamlessly from the outset of the game.
Nebraska scored on four drives of seven or more plays and seven drives of 59 yards or longer. Defensively, Nebraska threw in some wrinkles that helped the defense bend a little, but not break.
In short, Nebraska did not beat itself or make the game easier for its opponent and executed a game plan on both sides of the ball to great effect. If this is what we see from Nebraska throughout the season, 2012 could be a very fun year for the Children of the Corn.
If you would like to contact Patrick directly to schedule an interview, ask a question or to get his recipe for a killer peach cobbler, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. (DISCLAIMER: Peach cobbler recipe might not be all that killer.)
And if you want to see my pictures from the game, click here.