USM falls short

by Mike Martinez
Sports Editor
Once again, defense was the key in Southern Miss' game against the sixth ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Only this time, it was Nebraska's defense that thwarted USM's chance to stun one of the most prolific programs in all of college football.

Jeff Kelly's fourth quarter pass to the Nebraska 1-yard line was intercepted by the Cornhusker's Keyuo Craver, halting the Golden Eagles bid for one of the biggest upsets in Nebraska's storied history.

The Golden Eagles played excellent defense and the offense converted on one turnover, but it was not enough as the Cornhuskers scored two defensive touchdowns and had a late interception, as they escaped the near loss 20-13.

"We had an outstanding effort throughout the course of the game," USM head coach Jeff Bower said. "But one obvious fact is that we had six turnovers, that just really hurt us."

Nebraska, known in the past for its run-oriented offense, could not get anything going against the solid USM defense.

The defense, led by All-American defensive end Adalius Thomas, dominated the offensive line all afternoon, something that Nebraska was not used to seeing. Thomas came out and had his best game of the season - eight total tackles and one sack.

Earlier in the week, there had been some changes in the Cornhusker offensive lineup. These changes proved not so efficient as the Golden Eagles held Nebraska to just 183 yards of total offense and caused five turnovers.

The Nebraska defense stopped USM's ground game, allowing only 25 yards rushing, but Kelly and the USM receivers picked up the slack as they combined for 268 yards passing and two touchdowns.

The Cornhuskers got on the board in the middle of the first quarter as Kyle Vanden Bosch hit Kelly on a blindside tackle, jarring the ball loose. Linebacker Julius Jackson then picked up the ball and returned it for a 16-yard score. Nebraska missed the extra point and had 6-0 lead.

In the final minutes of the first quarter, it was the Golden Eagles' turn to capitalize on a turnover of Nebraska's.

The Cornhusker's Bobby Newcombe muffed a Jamie Purser punt near the Nebraska 40-yard line, which Southern Miss then recovered at the 45.

The Golden Eagles then worked on a six play, 45-yard drive, culminating with Kelly's 8-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Todd Pinkston. Following Brant Hanna's extra point, the Golden Eagles led the Cornhuskers 7-6.

In the second quarter, Nebraska rallied to score its only offensive touchdown of the game - an 8-yard scamper by running back Willie Miller. The USM defense stopped Nebraska's attempt at a two-point conversion, keeping the Cornhuskers to a slim 12-7 lead.

"It was a heck of a performance by our defense," Bower said. "A lot of the credit goes to the defensive players and our defensive staff too.

" USM regained the lead early in the third quarter as Kelly found Sherrod Gideon in the endzone for a five-yard score. The Golden Eagle failed on the two-point attempt but maintained a 13-12 advantage.

USM had two chances in the fourth quarter to seal the game.

On one USM drive, Kelly's pass was tipped by Craver and then intercepted by Jackson. Jackson returned the ball 28 yards for his second defensive touchdown of the day. USM's last try ended when Craver grabbed his second interception of the game, preserving the Cornhusker's victory.

Kelly finished with 23 completions on 45 attempts for 268 yards. Pinkston led all receivers with a game high 11 receptions for 163 yards.

Derrick Nix added 74 yards on 29 carries.

Th Golden Eagles travel to College Station, Texas as they visit the fifth ranked Texas A&M Aggies. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. CST and is scheduled to be televised on ABC.