Southern Miss (0-0) at (17) Nebraska (0-0)
Saturday, September 1st, 3:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 17th-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers put their nation-leading 26-
game season opener winning streak on the line as they host the Southern Miss
Golden Eagles at Memorial Stadium.
Southern Miss will begin its era with Ellis Johnson as its head coach on
Saturday as he makes his debut in replacement of the departed Larry Fedora.
The Golden Eagles soared to new heights during their Conference USA
Championship run in 2011 as they managed to submit the first 10-win season for
the program since 1988. Johnson, who served as USM's defensive coordinator
from 1988-1989, most recently was the assistant head coach at South Carolina
under Steve Spurrier. He will be making his debut at a collegiate head coach
after 36 years as an assistant.
Nebraska jumped out to a great start in 2011, but lost three of its last five,
including a 30-13 defeat to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl. The
Cornhuskers ended up finishing their inaugural tour of the Big Ten with a 9-4
overall record. Head coach Bo Pelini spent years eight years as an assistant
in the NFL before migrating to the NCAA to become Nebraska's defensive
coordinator in 2003. Pelini was the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma and LSU
before he became the Cornhuskers' head coach.
Nebraska holds a slight 2-1 advantage in its all-time series with the Golden
Eagles. Southern Miss has challenged the Cornhuskers in the previous
encounters and won the last meeting, 21-17, in 2004.
The Golden Eagles were able to win the C-USA last season due to their
phenomenal offense that finished 14th in the NCAA in scoring (36.9 ppg) and
17th in total offense (461.4 ypg) during their run for the gold. Junior QB
Chris Campbell has a great deal of pressure not only to fill the shoes of
four-year starter Austin Davis, but also to keep redshirt freshman Ricky Lloyd
from taking away his job.
Campbell will have an array of weapons that should make it easier for him to
spread the ball around the field and transition into the starting spot. The
undersized and speedy Tracy Lampley (5-9, 168) is a big play threat as dual-
threat runner and slot receiver. Junior WR Dominique Sullivan is the top
returner with 32 catches for 461 yards and two TDs. Senior Quentin Pierce
could be a factor as well.
The rushing attack revolves around the trio of Desmond Johnson, Jeremy Hester,
and Kendrick Hardy. The three rushers add their own styles to the mix which
gives USM versatility at the position.
Defensively, USM returns three of its top four tacklers from 2011, including
Jamie Collins (98 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks). The Golden
Eagles were just as strong on the defensive side of the ball in 2011 with the
26th-best scoring defense (20.8 ppg) and 29th-best total defense (343.0 yards
per game) in the nation.
Sophomore Rakeem Nunez-Roches (6-3, 312) will be a big factor to the defense's
success in his first year as the team's starting nose tackle. Dasman McCullum
(6-3, 238) and Jamie Collins (6-5, 239) are the best pass rushers heading into
the season. Starting safety Deron Wilson is a player to watch as he is a
preseason candidate for the Jim Thorpe Award.
USM's defense will have its work cut out for it when it tries to slow down
Nebraska's duel-threat signal caller. Junior Taylor Martinez is entering his
third year as the team's starting quarterback and is on pace to ink his name
in Nebraska's record books. The Cornhuskers' star QB threw for over 2,000
yards and rushed for 874 yards while accounting for 22 total touchdowns as a
sophomore. Martinez needs to improve his accuracy and decision making to
become a complete player.
"The quarterback is a running back. He's over 200 lbs., and can fly," said
Johnson on Martinez. "He's very quick. He's been criticized about his throwing
but if you go back and check the completion percentage and his interceptions
versus touchdowns, he's very effective. They are a handful and they have that
physical mentality that they used to have back in the 70's and 80's."
One player to watch is Kenny Bell, who grabbed a team-high 32 catches for 461
yards and three touchdowns as a freshman in 2011. Running back Rex Burkhead
should once again be an integral part of the offensive attack. Burkhead
finished 2011 ranked 19th nationally with an average of 104.4 yards per game.
His total of 1,357 yards was the seventh highest single season in NU history
and he will move into the program's top ten career rushing list if he gains 90
yards against Southern Miss.
Nebraska has fallen off slightly since leading the nation in scoring defense
in 2009 while operating in Pelini's Blackshirt defense, but it is still
effective. The Cornhuskers finished 2011 ranked 42nd in the NCAA with 23.4
points allowed per game and did an exceptional job of stopping opposing
Senior defensive end Cameron Meredith showed his playmaking ability as a
defensive end last year when he recorded a career-high five sacks. Senior
defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler meshes will with Meredith on the line.
Steinkuhler was included on a few preseason watch lists including the Lott
IMPACT Trophy, which considers only the top 42 overall defensive players in
Senior linebacker Will Compton was second on the team with 82 tackles in 2011,
and he will be counted to fill the void left by Lavonte David's departure for
the NFL. The secondary has a pair of talented and experienced defensive backs
in senior safety Daimion Stafford and junior cornerback Andrew Green.
"We'll be challenged right out of the gate, and that is one thing that is
different," said Compton when asked about USM. "We are playing a quality
football team and we will need a sense of urgency right away. I think we will
be ready to go. I know we will be ready to go."
Nebraska is attempting to establish itself as a Big Ten power after a decent
display in its first season. The Golden Eagles could have a strong season and
compete for the C-USA title once again, but they will find that they are
overmatched when they get to Lincoln.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Nebraska 37, Southern Miss 20
08/31 10:30:02 ET