LINCOLN — Southern Mississippi cured its troubles with fumbles, but another turnover problem popped up Saturday in the Golden Eagles' 56-13 loss to Nebraska.
Instead of losing four fumbles as they did Aug. 31 in a season-opening 22-15 loss to Texas State, the Golden Eagles threw four interceptions.
Much to the delight of the majority of the crowd at Memorial Stadium, Nebraska's two first-quarter picks were returned for touchdowns.
That delight was despair for Southern Mississippi coach Todd Monken and his staff.
“Obviously it's disappointing in the way we played to start the football game,” Monken said. “When you come to a tough place to play and start the opening series and get a first down and then turn the ball over, let alone it leads to a score, it really makes it difficult coming back from that.”
Southern Mississippi — which now has lost 14 consecutive games after going 0-12 in 2012 — was off to a good start against the Husker defense on the game's opening drive.
The Golden Eagles had picked up one first down and were at their own 38-yard line when quarterback Allan Bridgford's pass toward the west sideline was picked off by NU cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste.
Jean-Baptiste returned the ball 43 yards for a Nebraska touchdown just 73 seconds into the game. Bridgford saw another pass picked off by Husker cornerback and senior co-captain Ciante Evans late in the quarter for a 22-yard touchdown that put NU up 21-3.
“It is the second week in a row that we have done that early in the game,” Monken said. “We did certain things better, but obviously it wasn't the end result.
“We have to work on things to make us a better football team and give us a chance to win.”
Southern Mississippi's struggles with its own running game continued. On 27 attempts, the Golden Eagles netted just 62 yards, an average of 2.3 per carry.
“It is obvious we have to figure out a way to run the football and protect the football,” Monken said. “It is the second week in a row that we were not able to do that against a really good football team.”
Sans the four interceptions, Southern Mississippi was able to move the ball on the Huskers through the air. Bridgford completed 21 of 37 passes for 222 yards. Eight of those passes were caught by Tyre'oune Holmes, who finished with a team-high 65 yards.
“We were very successful offensively tonight,” Holmes said. “We moved the ball how we wanted to, but the turnovers hurt us a lot. We are going to work hard at catching the ball, tucking and running, and executing the offense.”
Holmes thought USM receivers might have an advantage going one-on-one with Husker defensive backs.
“It was something we wanted to take advantage of,” he said. “We tried to get one-on-one plays and create tackling space. We felt like we had a chance against Nebraska one-on-one in space.”
The hard-hitting game took its toll on the Golden Eagles. Two of them left the field on crutches.
Starting left guard Ed Preston had a bag of ice wrapped around his right foot and ankle, and freshman defensive lineman Dylan Bradley had his left foot and ankle heavily taped.
Despite another setback, Southern Mississippi safety DeBarriaus Miller said the future is bright for the Golden Eagles, who next play at Arkansas on Sept. 14.
“We won't bow down to anybody,” Miller said. “We know that we are going to play against big competition the next couple of games, and then we'll dominate in our conference.”
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Video: NU coach Bo Pelini after the Southern Miss game:
Video: NU's Taylor Martinez after the Southern Miss game:
Video: NU's Josh Banderas after the Southern Miss game:
Video: NU's Randy Gregory after the Southern Miss game: