Lincoln -- Senior linebacker Julius Jackson scored a pair of touchdowns to lead No. t4/6 (AP/Coaches) Nebraska to a 20-13 victory over Southern Miss Saturday afternoon.
Jackson, a reserve whose only previous career interceptions came as a redshirt freshman in 1996 and aginst Iowa in this season?s opener, led a Husker defense that forced six turnovers and recorded five sacks as Nebraska improved to 3-0 despite gaining less than 200 yards in total offense.
Trailing 13-12 in the third quarter, Southern Miss quarterback Jeff Kelly?s pass was deflected by a blitzing Keyuo Craver, who tipped the ball into the air where Jackson caught it at the USM 28 and raced untouched into the endzone to give NU a 18-13 lead. Dan Alexander, who finished with a 54 yards on 16 carries to lead NU, converted on the two-point conversion to give the Huskers a 20-13 lead midway through the third quarter.
The Golden Eagles had two opportunities to send the game into overtime in the final six minutes, but Craver, a sophomore who finished with two tackles and four pass breakups, ended both drives with a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions, including one on the 1-yard line with 1:17 remaining.
Jackson?s first score, a 16-yard fumble recovery off of Kyle Vanden Bosch?s sack of Kelly, gave the Huskers a 6-0 lead seven minutes into the game. Vanden Bosch, who finished with a career-high nine tackles and a pair of sacks, jarred the ball loose from Kelly, and Jackson picked up the loose ball and scored his first career touchdown.
The Golden Eagles would take advantage of a Husker turnover to put its first points on the board late in the first quarter. Wingback Bobby Newcombe fumbled a punt, which USM linebacker Roy Magee recovered at the Nebraska 43-yard line. Southern Miss capped the six-play drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Kelly to wide receiver Todd Pinkston to give USM A 7-6 lead, marking the first time NU had trailed all season.
The lead would see saw throughout the afternoon as the teams traded the lead five times in front of a Memorial Stadium record crowd of 77,826.
The Husker offense began to mount a drive early in the second quarter, driving 46 yards on eight plays to regain the lead at 12-7. NU, which was held without a first down in the first quarter, rushed for 32 yards on the drive, which was capped off by Willie Miller?s 8-yard touchdown run.
The Huskers received a break as the ensuing kickoff. Sophomore Mark Vedral recovered as Golden Eagle fumble at the USM 24-yard line, putting Nebraska in good field position, but Terrance Parrish ended the NU drive, intercepting an Eric Crouch pass in the endzone. NU committed five turnovers, two of which USM converted into all 13 of its points.
Crouch, in his first start of the season, completed 6-of-10 passes for 66 yards, but was intercepted two times. Nebraska finished with 185 yards, its lowest output since the 1993 season.
Southern Miss used NU?s third turnover of the game to retake the lead at 13-12 early in the third quarter. Alexander fumbled on the first play of the half and Magee recovered his second fumble of the day at the NU 19-yard line. The Golden Eagles would score six plays later as Kelly connected with Sherrod Gideon for a 5-yard TD pass, but would miss the two-point conversion attempt as Ortiz deflected Kelly?s pass to Gideon.
Kelly finished the afternoon completing 23-of-45 passes for 268 yards and two scores, but also accounted for five of Southern Miss turnovers. Kelly, who was sacked five times, threw four interceptions and fumbled once. The NU defense held the Golden Eagles to just 25 yards rushing, the third straight opponent held under 60 yards on the ground.
The Huskers will face Missouri next Saturday, Sept. 25, in a nationally-televised contest on Fox Sports Net, beginning at 6 p.m.
Nebraska Postgame Notes vs. Southern Mississippi
* In one of the best, down-to-the-wire games played in Memorial Stadium, the lead changed five times and Nebraska needed a defensive stand to secure a 20-13 win in Lincoln over Southern Mississippi. The Husker win puts the No. 4 (AP, tied) and No. 6 (coaches) Huskers at 3-0 on the season and drops Southern Miss (which entered the game ranked 36th by AP) to 2-1. Southern Miss had one last chance to win the game with 2:38 remaining in the fourth quarter with the ball on their own 41. The Eagles drove inside the red zone, to the NU 14-yard line, but sophomore Keyuo Craver recorded his second interception of the game and the fourth quarter, giving NU the ball with 1:17 remaining on the 6-yard line. It was a game played before 77,826 fans, a new Memorial Stadium record, bettering the 77,617 who watched the California game last week, and NU?s 229th consecutive sellout. For the third consecutive year and the seventh time in the 90s, the Huskers completed its non-conference portion of the schedule undefeated.
* Turnovers Key...Defense Scores Twice...Not only did the Husker defense cause six turnovers, but they scored on two (NU had five turnovers of which USM converted two). Specifically, senior Will linebacker Julius Jackson scored on two turnovers. On Southern Miss? second drive of the game, Kyle Vanden Bosch sacked QB Jeff Kelly for a 19-yard loss and caused a fumble. Jackson ran it in 16 yards for the Huskers? first TD, but Josh Brown?s extra point failed putting NU up 6-0 with 7:50 left on the clock in the first quarter. USM converted a fumbled NU punt by Bobby Newcombe six plays later into an 8-yard TD (Jeff Kelly to Todd Pinkston) to go up 7-6. After NU took a 12-7 lead with 9:45 remaining in the second quarter on a Willie Miller 8-yard run (2-pt conversion run by Miller failed), both teams had interceptions in the second quarter which did not lead to scores (NU FS Clint Finley intercepted Kelly with no time remaining on the clock at intermission). NU went into the lockerroom with a 12-7 lead. The Huskers turned the ball over on a fumble by Dan Alexander on NU?s first offensive play of the third quarter which USM converted to a TD pass from Kelly to Sherrod Gideon (5 yards) to take its second lead of the game at 13-12 after the Golden Eagles? 2 pt. conversion failed (pass broken up by Tony Ortiz). Julius Jackson had come into the game when WLB starter Eric Johnson left the game with a left knee sprain (did not return). Jackson had also left the game for a short time with a right knee sprain. He returned to action however and scored his second touchdown of the day when cornerback Keyuo Craver tipped up a pass on a blitz which Jackson intercepted and ran in for a 28-yard touchdown. This time NU converted the two points on a Dan Alexander run to go up 20-13. The interception was Jackson?s second this season. Crouch was intercepted a second time (second of the season) with 5:10 left in the third quarter, but again USM did not convert. . The two TDs scored by the Husker defense marked the first time the Blackshirts had scored twice in a game since NU scored on two interceptions and one punt return against Michigan State on Sept. 7, 1996. It marked the first time one Husker Blackshirt had scored two TDs going back to 1974 (records available in press box). In the fourth quarter, NU?s Dan Alexander fumbled (6:42 remaining in game), but NU got the ball right back as Keyuo Craver recorded his first interception of the season, second of career (NU forced to punt). Craver is the first Husker to have two interceptions in a game since Clint Finley had two vs. Iowa State last year. The Husker Blackshirts had four interceptions total, marking the first time the team has had three or more since picking off three vs. Washington on Sept. 26 in 1998..
* Husker Defense Continued...Senior WLB Julius Jackson came off the bench to score twice, once on a 16-yard fumble return and once on a 28-yard interception return. Jackson also had five tackles, including a 9-yard sack. Sophomore cornerback Keyuo Craver had two tackles, a career-best four pass breakups and two interceptions (one for a 5-yard return and one for a 13-yard return). Unofficially, senior rover Mike Brown led the team with 12 tackles (eight solo) and had one breakup, while junior rush end Kyle Vanden Bosh had nine tackles and three for 23 yards lost, including 2-22 on sacks. He also caused the fumble which Jackson scored on. Senior corner Ralph Brown had two breakups and two tackles. Defensive tackle Jeremy Slechta had one sack for 6-yards lost and five tackles and nose tackle Jason Lohr had one breakup at the line and four tackles. Eric Johnson had a sack for 8-yards lost on USM?s first play from scrimmage. Although the Husker defense gave up its first touchdown of the season, the Husker Blackshirts held USM to 25 yards rushing (on a season-high 34 rushing attempts) and has allowed just 122 rushing yards in three games. The long rush by an opponent remains a 15 yard run by Ladell Betts of Iowa. NU had five sacks for 45 yards lost on the day, tying season high.
* Split end Matt Davison has now caught at least one pass in 20 consecutive games. He had 2-19 vs. USM and now ranks tied for 18th on the NU career chart with 50-732 in three years.
* Firsts and Bests for Huskers...Redshirt freshman Wilson Thomas started the game as the Huskers opened in spread formation with two split ends. LB Randy Stella had a career-long 50-yard kickoff return which would have been a 94-yard return for a TD, but it was called back for holding. Fullback Willie Miller had a season-high eight carries for 38 yards.
* Husker Rushing...This marks the third straight game of the season that NU has not had a rusher with 100 yards or more. Alexander led the team with 54 yards on 16 carries. The last time NU has not had a 100-yard rusher in any of the first three games was 1988 against Texas A&M, Utah State and UCLA. (in game four, Nebraska set a school record with three backs rushing for 100 yards or more, including Ken Clark, 122, Steve Taylor, 116, Terry Rodgers, 113, vs. Arizona State). NU had 119 rushing yards vs. USM, but it was not a season low as NU had 114 vs. California. The 185 yards of total offense for the Huskers is the lowest since 179 against Oklahoma (in Lincoln) on Nov. 26, 1993 (a 21-7 NU win).
* In his first start since the Holiday Bowl vs. Arizona, Quarterback Eric Crouch rushed 16 times for 26 yards and completed 6-10 passes for 66 yards. He had two interceptions, but neither was converted into a score by USM. In his first start since the Kansas State game last season, I-back Dan Alexander rushed 16 times for a game-high 54 yards and caught a 27-yard pass. The 16 carries by Crouch and Alexander are the most by a Husker this season.
Three-Game 1999 Highs and Lows (previous high/low)...
* Nebraska Highs...2 interceptions (1 vs. Iowa); 5 fumbles (3 vs. Iowa, Cal); 3 fumbles lost (2 at Iowa); 5 turnovers (3 at Iowa); 9 penalties (6 vs. Iowa, Cal); 5 sacks (ties 5 NU had vs. Cal). Nebraska Lows..20 points (42 vs. Iowa); 8 first downs (15 vs. Cal), 41 rushing attempts (48 vs. Cal), 66 passing yards (187 vs. Cal), 51 total plays (57 vs. Cal), 185 total offense yards (301 vs. Cal); 27:41 possession time (29:07 vs. Cal). Opponent Highs...13 points (7 by Iowa); 15 first downs (9 by Cal); 34 rushing attempts (35 by Cal); 45 passes attempted (30 by Iowa); 23 passes completed (11 by Iowa); 4 passes had intercepted (2 by Cal); 268 passing yards (112 by Iowa); 79 total plays (61 by Cal); 293 total yards (169 by Iowa), 32:19 possession time (30:53 by Cal), 2 fumbles and 2 fumbles lost (ties the 2/2 by Iowa); 6 turnovers (3 by Iowa and Cal). Opponent Lows...25 rushing yards (40 by Cal); 1 sack by ties the 1 by USM).
* Injuries...WLB senior Eric Johnson, sprained left MCL (4-6 weeks); Julius Jackson, bruised knee, not serious; Aaron Wills, shoulder stinger and sprained AC joint in other shoulder; Randy Stella, pulled abdominal muscle; Loran Kaiser, sore right shoulder. Only Johnson is expected to miss a game due to the injury.
* Up Next...The Huskers open conference play at Missouri, while Southern Miss hits the road again for another matchup with a Big 12 school playing at Texas A&M.