Southern Miss (0-1) at No. 22 Nebraska (1-0)
Kickoff: Saturday, 5 p.m.
Where: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.
Coaches: Southern Miss, Todd Monken (0-1, first year); Nebraska, Bo Pelini (50-20, sixth year)
Series: Nebraska leads 3-1
Last meeting: 2012, Nebraska 49, Southern Miss 20
When Nebraska has the ball: Expect to see a determined group, especially up front. The Nebraska linemen opened holes for 375 rushing yards in the season-opening win over Wyoming, but they left the field with a bad feeling after the Cowboys’ fourth-quarter comeback was made possible, in part, by Nebraska’s inability to finish. “Everyone remembers how the game ended,” offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles said. “Everyone remembers how we got stopped on a fourth-and-1.”
When Southern Miss has the ball: The Golden Eagles feature a potentially prolific passing attack, with quarterback Allan Bridgford – a fifth-year senior and transfer from Cal – throwing to receivers Rickey Bradley, Tyre’oune Holmes and running back Tyre Bracken. Together, they caught 23 passes in USM’s opening loss to North Texas. Bridgford figures to test a Nebraska secondary that was torched by Brett Smith last week for 383 yards and four touchdowns. USM rushed for just 23 yards last week and committed an FBS-high six turnovers.
Who to watch: Junior WR Kenny Bell. Quietly, Bell continued his assault on Nebraska’s record book. He grabbed seven passes for 57 yards in the opener, his fourth game with six or more receptions. Bell ranks eighth at Nebraska in career receiving yards (1,381) and ninth in receptions (89). While others in his position group are faster and bigger, Bell is simply the best – and always a threat.
Who else to watch: Inexperienced linebackers Michael Rose, Josh Banderas, Nathan Gerry and Zaire Anderson might get a chance to show more in this second game. The Huskers, after Wyoming amassed 602 yards, are open to different looks defensively, and these youngsters provide an alternative. Banderas, a true freshman, is pushing blackshirt David Santos in the middle.
Last week marked Nebraska’s 14th consecutive game with two or more turnovers. The Huskers nearly ended the streak, playing turnover-free until Taylor Martinez was intercepted with 6:26 left in the game. Martinez lost a fumble less than three minutes later. In the past 14 games, the Huskers have committed 37 turnovers; only Idaho has lost the football more in that same time. The last time Nebraska avoided a turnover, in fact, came against Southern Miss in the season opener a year ago.
Pelini has won 50 games as Nebraska’s coach, joining Tom Osborne, Bob Devaney, Frank Solich and Dana Bible in exclusive company. Pelini’s next victory will move him ahead of Bible, who coached the Huskers from 1929 to 1936. Among his win total, Pelini counts the 2003 Alamo Bowl over Michigan State, in which he served as interim coach after the firing of Solich.
Pelini and Monken worked together under Les Miles at LSU in 2005 and 2006, with Pelini as the defensive coordinator and Monken as receivers coach. The Tigers finished 11-2 in both seasons and captured the SEC West title in 2005. Pelini stayed on staff for the Tigers’ 2007 BCS championship before taking the Nebraska job. Monken went to the Jacksonville Jaguars as an assistant coach from 2007 to 2010 and spent the past two seasons as Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator.
I-back Terrell Newby rushed 15 times for 76 yards in the opener, the largest output by a true freshman at Nebraska in an opener since Quentin Castille in 2007. Newby joined Ameer Abdullah, Imani Cross and Martinez in topping 75 yards to mark the first time since 2001 that four Huskers rushed for 75 or more yards in a game.
Final thought: Southern Miss has lost 13 games in a row, the longest skid in the nation. The Golden Eagles are better than that, though, and no doubt hungry to make a statement. But if USM keeps this close deep into the first half or longer, it would rank as another blow for the Huskers in advance of their battle next week with No. 18 UCLA.