LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska bounced back nicely from a shaky opening weekend with a solid, 56-13 victory on Saturday over Southern Miss. Here’s what we know about the Huskers as a result of this second victory:
When opportunity knocks, these Blackshirts can answer: Nebraska gets no credit for beating a great opponent on Saturday; Southern Miss has lost 14 straight and looked like it of Saturday, often failing to get out of its own way. But when the Golden Eagles opened the door, the Nebraska defense stormed through, starting with Stanley Jean-Baptiste’s interception return for a touchdown 73 seconds into the game. Ciante Evans repeated the feat late in the first quarter. Nebraska last scored two defensive touchdowns in 2010 against Idaho. It intercepted four passes total and finished plus-3 in turnover margin for the first time since a win over Colorado in 2010. And the Huskers’ nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage marked their highest count since notching 12 last September against Idaho State.
Nebraska is serious about its youth movement: It required all of one week for the Huskers to sit David Santos, who won the starting middle linebacker job and a Blackshirt practice jersey last month. Santos actually led the Huskers with 12 tackles in the opener, but true freshman Josh Banderas and redshirt freshman Michael Rose outplayed him in the days before Southern Miss came to town, so the rookies saw more time on Saturday. Banderas got the start alongside another true freshman linebacker, Nathan Gerry. Newcomer Randy Gregory played like Nebraska’s best defensive lineman off the edge. True freshman defensive tackle Maliek Collins registered a sack. Offensively, true freshman tight end Cethan Carter caught his first pass, and classmate Terrell Newby ran well again, gaining 60 yards.
Taylor Martinez is more comfortable than ever in the pocket: The senior quarterback trusts his veteran cast of offensive linemen, but there’s something more at work here. Martinez, after bruising his non-throwing shoulder in the opener, rarely looked to run on Saturday. When he took off, Martinez appeared a bit tentative, but it mattered little as he distributed 15 completions on 23 attempts to seven receivers. He’s completed 71.1 percent of his throws through two games with six touchdowns and one interception, showing the kind of maturity expected from a fourth-year starter. It represents a new side of Martinez, who, in the past, often scurried from the pocket before the protection broke down. His patience is paying dividends top for receivers Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner.