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Sept. 26
2003

 Instant Analysis - Nebraska vs. Southern Miss
  The Touch, the feel of cotton, the fabric of hope


By Matthew Zemek 

Some early-season college football games provide resoundingly clear verdicts about the nature and direction of certain teams.

Thursday night’s 38-14 win for Nebraska over Southern Miss wasn’t that kind of a game.

However, in the same breath, the contest marked a step forward for the Huskers, a clear note of hope for the Big Red in the first road game of the season for Frank Solich’s crew.

How would this team—a team that got dismantled on the road last year—respond to a night game in Hattiesburg, Miss., in front of a frenzied crowd of Eagle gold? One had to wonder if this team would have the deer-in-the-headlights look it often had outside of Lincoln last season. Would Jammal Lord look less than confident? Would the Huskers have something like a 6-6 game entering the fourth quarter? These were legitimate concerns for Solich and his offensive coordinator, Barney Cotton.

The good news about this win is that the Huskers most certainly answered the bell early and played like a confident and aggressive team. They silenced an enemy crowd the old-fashioned way: by putting their hard hats on and blowing away the opposition up front. No scary fourth quarter, no drama, no horror show from a competent Lord, who came up with a brilliant play pass and a perfectly-thrown bomb in the third quarter to seal the game. By showing a killer instinct and getting pass production from Lord, the Huskers gained from this game, without any question.

The not-so-good news from this contest for the Big Red Nation is that Southern Miss did the one thing it couldn’t afford to do: turn the ball over early and often.

Fumble… Nebraska touchdown four running plays later.

Shanked punt… Nebraska field goal.

Interception… Nebraska touchdown.

There was your game, ladies and gentlemen, all in the first quarter.

With that kind of a non-response from the Golden Eagles, it’s hard to put too much stock into this win for the Huskers. If there’s a value-neutral or negative spin on this game from a Nebraska perspective, it’s that Southern Miss handed the game away in the first 10-plus minutes. One can only wonder what the Huskers will do on the road against an opponent that actually avoids silly mistakes or, worse, gets in the first punch.

Overall, the game rates as a plus for Nebraska—the team will undeniably gain confidence from this game, and especially Lord as a result of his two big-play passes. Barney Cotton has to feel better about the direction of this offense and about Lord’s ability to make plays.

However, USM’s “Christmas in September” error-fest will make it impossible for this romp to be considered a return to glory, a full restoration of Nebraska’s identity, image and prowess. The feel Cotton has for his offense is increasing, giving Nebraska hope. But because the Golden Eagles didn’t protect the ball, one can’t say this was the fully demanding and daunting test the Huskers needed to pass.

The next competitive road game the Huskers get in ’03 will be their first. Once that game happens—it most certainly did not happen Thursday night—we’ll be able to judge Nebraska much more accurately, for better or worse. 





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