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September 7, 2013

Match-up watch: Southern Miss

NU Run Offense vs. Southern Miss Run Defense
There was a lot to love about the rushing performance Nebraska put up in game one - Ameer Abdullah put up 114 yards and flashed his explosiveness on a 62-yard scamper, Imani Cross showed he's capable of being more than a short-yardage back and Terrell Newby proved the spotlight of D-1 football isn't too bright for him. When a team puts up 375 rushing yards like Nebraska did, it's pretty difficult to complain.

Yet the effort didn't seem as dominant as it could have been. The Huskers had 27 runs in the game that netted three yards or fewer and were stonewalled on the ground with a chance to end a game on their final drive. The offensive line had some tremendous moments, most notably in the third quarter, but NU would like to see that effort throughout the whole game.

Southern Miss held Texas State to 81 yards and 2.0 yards per carry in their opener, but the Bobcats don't have nearly the firepower Nebraska does. If NU comes out firing, this could be a big game for the ground attack.

Edge: NEBRASKA

NU Pass Offense vs. Southern Miss Pass Defense
The good news first - Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner were all excellent in their season debuts. But Nebraska didn't get much of a chance to see what it had in freshmen Jordan Westerkamp, Alonzo Moore and Cethan Carter and tight end Jake Long looked rusty after missing almost all of fall camp with a knee injury.

Taylor Martinez was very accurate for the most part, completing 17 of 22 passes and tossing for three scores. But his late interception, which resulted from miscommunication with Sam Burtch, proved very costly. On the plus side, Martinez wasn't sacked and was mostly kept clean by the offensive line.

The Huskers aren't entirely sure what to expect defensively from Southern Miss under new coach Todd Monken, but there is a good chance this defense will be aggressive. The Golden Eagles set an NCAA record for interceptions returned for touchdowns in 2011 under defensive coordinator David Duggan, who returns after a season on the North Carolina staff.

Edge: NEBRASKA

Southern Miss Run Offense vs. NU Run Defense
Whatever the outcome is Saturday, this likely won't be the area that decides it. The Golden Eagles had 23 rushing yards on 24 attempts against Texas State, a pretty strong signal their ground game isn't one to be feared. Kendrick Hardy and Tyre Bracken, USM's top running backs, combined for 49 yards on 16 carries.

That being said, NU's running defense didn't exactly sparkle against Wyoming. The Huskers gave up 219 yards (7.3 average) on the ground to the Cowboys, almost 100 yards more than Wyoming averaged per game in 2012. The coaches say everything is correctable and this is a young defense, but adjustments have to be made.

Nebraska figures to be in nickel and dime situations for much of this game, so linebackers Zaire Anderson and Jared Afalava might not get much of a chance to help out. But the defensive line, which featured a host of rotating players, must do a better job fighting off its blocks. Keep an eye on Josh Banderas - the coaches love his work ethic and say the competition between him and David Santos is very close.

Edge: NEBRASKA

Southern Miss Pass Offense vs. NU Pass Defense
Golden Eagles quarterback Allan Bridgford didn't set the world on fire last week against Texas State, completing just 28 of his 53 passes (52.8 percent) and tossing a pair of interceptions. But he also threw for 377 yards and is a very skilled player. A four-star Army All-American recruit coming out of high school, Bridgford started his career at Cal before transferring.

Fortunately for Nebraska, Bridgford isn't mobile like Wyoming's Brett Smith. Smith rushed for 92 yards and repeatedly found good throwing lanes by moving in the pocket. Bridgford isn't a statue, but he shouldn't be taking off for any long scrambles either.

There were some bright spots from the secondary in week one, most notably the play of Stanley Jean-Baptiste. But the unit as a whole disappointed, and Nebraska's young defensive line simply must get more pressure on the quarterback. Smith was way too comfortable last week, and the Huskers can't have that kind of effort rushing the passer again.

Edge: SOUTHERN MISS

Special Teams, What If's and The X-Factor
Pat Smith was solid in his debut, but his play didn't automatically win him the job over Mauro Bondi, who did an excellent job kicking off. If Smith does struggle, don't be surprised if the coaching staff gives Bondi a shot.

Bell did a great job on kickoff returns and special teams coordinator Ross Els said he was very happy with his coverage units. And it's hard to imagine that Sam Foltz could have had a much better debut - the redshirt freshman showed distance, hang time and accuracy. It's hard to ask for much more than that.

On the Southern Miss side, Jalen Richard is a fairly dangerous punt returner and Matthew Moseley displayed good accuracy by downing three of his six punts inside the 20 last week. Kicker Corey Acosta made a pair of field goals against Texas State but also missed a 30-yarder.

Edge: NEBRASKA

Nebraska Will Win If:

The defense doesn't allow Bridgford to have a career day and the offense cleans up the mistakes. Turner described the NU offense as "sloppy" several times during an interview this week and it's hard to argue. If the Huskers bring it all together offensively, they could run away early.

Southern Miss Will Win If:

Bridgford goes bonkers and some lucky breaks go their way. The Golden Eagles lost four fumbles last weekend, several of which either ruined a Southern Miss scoring opportunity or put Texas State in short field position. USM doesn't have the talent Wyoming does, but they could be dangerous if NU lets up like it did last weekend.

X-Factor:

Pride. Nebraska needs to find it this week. Several Huskers talked about how they were embarrassed by their effort last weekend, but we've heard that before. It's time to see some change. If Nebraska wants to reestablish itself as a contender for the conference title, it will come out and knock Southern Miss around early. And unlike last week, it won't let its opponent get back up.

Prediction:
Nebraska 52, Southern Miss 20



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