LINCOLN — It took Josh Banderas only two games into his college career to earn his first start.
It took the true freshman linebacker out of Lincoln one press conference to provide one of the best postgame sound bites you'll ever hear.
Banderas, speaking to the media after making three tackles against Southern Mississippi on Saturday, was asked his reaction when coaches told him he'd be starting.
“I kind of dropped a load in my pants,” he said, “but I was kind of excited.”
The line obviously drew a big laugh. But Banderas as a possible option in the middle going forward is serious business.
His defensive coordinator put things a little more eloquently when asked why NU decided to go with Banderas in just his second game in college.
“Josh has kind of an 'it' quality to him in terms of having some poise and command, in terms of setting fronts, making checks, communicating,” John Papuchis said. “There's some guys that just have that quality and he's one of them.”
Head coach Bo Pelini said the decision to start Banderas over David Santos, last week's starter, was based on practice.
Papuchis and Pelini say that Banderas has plenty of room to grow, but he's had a strong start to that process.
“It's not easy to do,” Pelini said. “The thing that struck me with Bando is that it wasn't too big for him from the start. He's got a great demeanor about him, and he understands the game and he's really worked hard at it. He asks the right questions and he gets it. He gets football.
“He's got a long way to go as a player, but I think his potential and his ceiling is very high. I think he can be very special down the road if he stays on course.”
Bell cites better execution for NU's improved kickoff returns
Kenny Bell saw another opening Saturday night and just took off running. It wasn't all that different to him than the two kickoffs he returned last week against Wyoming.
“I can't even take credit for any of the returns I've had,” Bell said. “I've had phenomenal blocking with those guys.”
Bell broke a 63-yarder in the third quarter that led immediately to a Husker touchdown that made it 42-13.
The senior started the season with returns of 37 and 35 yards against the Cowboys. He is now averaging 40.3 on four returns, a significant figure considering NU averaged just 21.6 per kickoff return a year ago.
Bell said Nebraska made some personnel changes, but also realized in the offseason how much special teams may have hurt it in 2012.
“I think guys are just executing better,” he said.
Armstrong achieves goal of leading scoring drive in Nebraska debut
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck reminded Tommy Armstrong at halftime to start reviewing the game plan and to try to get himself mentally prepared.
Armstrong knew what that meant. He was going in.
The redshirt freshman quarterback made his Husker debut in the third quarter. And Armstrong looked right at home, running four options plays to begin his career at NU.
“It just felt right,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong missed some practice opportunities during preseason camp after undergoing minor surgery on his knee. He'd feel soreness one day and nothing the next. But Armstrong said he stayed focused mentally.
He feels fine now. And he played like it Saturday.
He finished with four carries for 23 yards. But to him, the best part was leading the offense on a touchdown-scoring drive. Sophomore Imani Cross capped the nine-play possession with a 1-yard score to make it 56-13 with 14:38 left.
“I was real excited about that,” Armstrong said. “Going into it, that was my main objective. Go down and score.”
Interceptions help Huskers finish plus-three in turnover margin
Nebraska's only turnover in 60 minutes of football Saturday night was a third-quarter fumble by I-back Terrell Newby. Combined with Southern Miss throwing four interceptions, the Huskers finished plus-three in turnover margin for the first time since the 2010 season (against Colorado).
Nebraska hadn't even been plus-two in turnover margin since the 2011 season against Washington and Iowa.
Southern Miss, meanwhile, also had six turnovers in a season-opening loss to Texas State and now sits with 10 through two games.
— Nick Rubek, Rich Kaipust, Jon Nyatawa and Sam McKewon