|THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/ROGELIO SOLIS|
|Nebraska quarterback Jammal Lord provided a passing game for his team, throwing for touchdowns on consecutive possessions in the second half against Southern Mississippi.|
HATTIESBURG, Miss. - Just think, Southern Mississippi paid Nebraska $500,000 for this.
Somewhere, somebody might deserve a refund.
No. 15 Nebraska (4-0) took its money and the win, surprising all with a downfield passing game that was the difference in a 38-14 victory Thursday before a USM-record home crowd of 36,152.
USM's most anticipated home game ever had fans paying $15 above the normal ticket price of $25, but most headed for the exits with 12:09 to play after USM sophomore quarterback Dustin Almond's second interception.
Almond, making his fourth career start in place of injured Micky D'Angelo, looked wobbly all game and finished 4-for-24 for 68 yards and two interceptions before he was benched.
Nebraska's NCAA-leading defense (208.0 yards, 8.0 points allowed per game going in) did its job by forcing five turnovers and holding USM to 144 total yards through three quarters.
"We didn't play with a lot of poise," USM coach Jeff Bower said, shrugging off one question about his choice of a starting quarterback. "I thought we played hard, but I don't think you'll ever win with that many mistakes."
Nebraska's offense, which had scored only five touchdowns (all rushing) in three games, took on a different look in the second half.
Quarterback Jammal Lord threw touchdown passes on consecutive drives to Ross Pilkington (44 yards) and Isaiah Fluellen (43 yards) early in the second half to put Nebraska ahead 31-7. Entering the game, Fluellen had no catches, and Nebraska had run the ball on 84 percent of its offensive plays (201 of 240).
"They [Southern Miss' defenders] were committing to the run; that was obvious," Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. "When opportunities come, you have to make the plays."
The offensive gear switching had something to do with a Huskers' running game that never quite caught fire. On its first five carries of the game, Nebraska had 46 yards, but then had a combined minus-4 yards on its last eight carries of the first quarter and averaged 3.4 yards a carry in the first half.
It didn't matter, as USM was charitable early. The Eagles' offense and special teams fell apart in the opening 7 1/2 minutes, leading to 17 quick Nebraska points.
USM lost a fumble at its 29 to set up Lord's 6-yard keeper for a 7-0 lead. USM punter Kyle Larson then shanked a kick 13 yards. Inside USM territory, Nebraska drove to the 18, but settled for David Dyches' 40-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead.
Almond was picked off by Nebraska's Josh Bullocks on a tipped pass, and Bullocks' 41-yard return put Nebraska at the USM 4. Three plays later, David Horne's option run made it 17-0.
Nebraska looked better in the red zone (3-for-3 on scoring chances) after starting the season 5-for-19. The defense let USM get no closer than 17-7 and wasn't compromised until backup USM quarterback Damion Carter (143 yards passing) led the Eagles on a 92-yard, 17-play scoring drive covering seven minutes in mop-up time.
WHY NEBRASKA WON
The Cornhuskers turned to a passing game seldom used in its first three games, and the defense shut down Southern Mississippi for three quarters.
WHY SOUTHERN MISS LOST
The Golden Eagles didn't handle a national television audience or the sellout crowd that came hoping for an upset over a Top 25 team. Backup quarterback Dustin Almond seemed most affected.
Southern Mississippi fell to 12-50 all-time against ranked teams. The Eagles had won three of their past five games against ranked opponents.
USM set a school attendance record at M.M. Roberts Stadium with a sellout crowd of 36,152.
Nebraska punter Kyle Larson averaged 48 yards on seven punts, his longest going for 67 yards.
Nebraska vs. Troy State, 12:30 p.m., Oct. 4
Southern Mississippi at Cincinnati, 6 p.m., Oct. 4