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updated: 9/7/2013 12:36 AM

No. 22 Nebraska needs defense to rebound

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  • Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini watches a replay during last Saturday's game against Wyoming in Lincoln, Neb. The Huskers won 37-34, but Wyoming amassed 602 yards.

      Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini watches a replay during last Saturday's game against Wyoming in Lincoln, Neb. The Huskers won 37-34, but Wyoming amassed 602 yards.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. -- If Bo Pelini is worried about his defense, he isn't showing it.

While Nebraska fans spent the week stressing over how easily Wyoming moved the ball in the opener, the Cornhuskers' coach stayed positive. He expects the defense to be "significantly better" Saturday against Southern Mississippi (0-1).

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The No. 22 Huskers (1-0) need to improve if they hope to hang with No. 18 UCLA next week in what should be their toughest game before November.

Red flags -- and not the festive kind that fly in front yards on game days across the state -- were raised last week.

The Huskers won 37-34, but Wyoming amassed 602 yards -- the eighth-most ever against Nebraska. This was after last season ended with the Huskers allowing 640 yards to Wisconsin and 589 to Georgia in losses.

And don't forget that UCLA beat the Huskers in Los Angeles last September after piling up 653 yards, 3 shy of the opponent record set by Oklahoma in 1956.

No one expected the defense to be dominant early this season. The unit is young, with a redshirt freshman and sophomore among the starting front four and four true freshmen playing a significant amount against Wyoming.

Though the Cowboys had 28 plays go for 10 yards or longer, Pelini said he felt better about the unit after he watched the film.

"I actually like the way we played in some instances," Pelini said. "I like how some of the young guys reacted and some of the things we did. I think we will grow exponentially from that game the other night."

The Huskers will face a Southern Miss offense that features California transfer Allan Bridgford at quarterback. Bridgford is not nearly as mobile as Wyoming's Brett Smith, but he's a comparable passer. Bridgford threw for 377 yards, the fifth-most in school history, in a 22-15 loss to Texas State.

The Golden Eagles committed six turnovers, the most of any team in the nation last week, and netted only 23 yards on 24 rushing attempts.

"We didn't try to run it enough. We've got to be a little more creative," first-year coach Todd Monken said. "We've got to put teams in more of a run-pass conflict. We're going to get (Bridgford) killed if we don't."

Here are five things to watch when Nebraska takes on Southern Mississippi:

MARTINEZ MILESTONE: Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez will reach 3,000 yards rushing for his career if he runs for 62 against the Golden Eagles. He would become the eighth Nebraska player, and second quarterback, to hit that mark.

Martinez also would become the fifth quarterback in FBS history to have 3,000 yards rushing and 6,500 yards passing.

ABRIDGED PLAYBOOK: Will Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck open up the playbook? He acknowledged he was too conservative against Wyoming.

The Huskers ran on 63 of their 85 plays, with Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross each going over 100 yards. They finished with 375 yards rushing.

Beck said he should have been more creative. Martinez didn't take any shots down the field. Jake Long caught a tipped ball for 26 yards, but no other pass play went for more than 17.

"If you look back, there were opportunities we could have took, probably should have took," he said, "but we didn't."

NEWBY NOT LIKE A NEWBY: Terrell Newby is listed as the Huskers' No. 3 running back behind Abdullah and Cross, but the true freshman will be on the field a lot.

He carried 15 times for 76 yards in his first college game, including nine times during a 13-play touchdown drive in the second half while the game was still in doubt.

"I didn't expect anything less," Abdullah said. "He's been showing good signs in practice that he's ready to come in and compete. You saw a good little bit of what you can expect from Terrell this year and what's to come."

SPARKLING DEBUTS: Southern Miss newcomers Rickey Bradley and Tyre'oune Holmes will keep the Huskers' secondary occupied.

Bradley had 193 yards on seven catches against Texas State, the fourth-best performance in the nation last week and fourth-best ever at Southern Miss. Holmes caught 12 balls for 96 yards, the most receptions by a Southern Miss player making his debut.

FBS' LONGEST LOSING STREAK: Southern Miss comes to Lincoln on a 13-game losing streak, the longest in the FBS, and won't be favored to win until it plays Florida International at home on Oct. 5. Before then the Golden Eagles play road games at Nebraska, Arkansas and Boise State.

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