S Miss' new coach blasts defense in 49-20 loss - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

S Miss' new coach blasts defense in 49-20 loss

By ERIC OLSON
AP Sports Writer

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - First-year Southern Mississippi coach Ellis Johnson comes from a defensive background, and the Golden Eagles have been 1 of the nation's strongest defensive teams in the nation in recent years.

You wouldn't have known it Saturday, not with the Eagles surrendering 632 yards in a 49-20 loss to No. 17 Nebraska.

"I think that Nebraska is a really good team, so I am not trying to take anything away from them," Johnson said. "They probably have a shot to make it a long way in their conference. But I was disappointed. A lot of young guys on our defense showed their youth rather than their talent at times."

Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez passed for a career-high 354 yards, matched his high with five touchdown passes and the Huskers rolled up 632 total yards.

Worst thing is, the Huskers didn't show Southern Miss anything unexpected.

"We've just got to get better," said Johnson, who came to Southern Miss after spending four years as defensive coordinator at South Carolina. "We are not that tough on defense."

The Huskers won their nation-leading 27th straight opener.

Nebraska played the last three quarters without Rex Burkhead. The 1,300-yard rusher last season went out with a sprained ligament in his left knee after opening the scoring with a career-long 57-yard run.

"They looked like they ran the offense around Martinez more, instead of around the running back, Burkhead," cornerback Deron Wilson said. "He (Martinez) took the load tonight."

Southern Miss backup quarterback Anthony Alford carried 15 times for 84 yards in his first college game.

The Golden Eagles scored their first touchdown on Tracy Lampley's 100-yard kickoff return. They tied it 14-14 on first-time starter Chris Campbell's 24-yard pass to Dominique Sullivan.

Nebraska's go-ahead TD came on Martinez's 9-yard pass to Jake Long.

Nebraska has scored 40 or more points in seven straight openers, and all but 1 of the wins during their streak have been by double digits.

The last time Southern Miss came to Lincoln (2004), the Eagles left with a 21-17 victory. There was no threat of that happening Saturday.

Martinez came out and showed the result of his offseason work on his passing mechanics. He said his goal was to complete 70% of his attempts, and he went out and hit on 26 of 34 (76%).

Johnson couldn't place all the blame on the secondary.

"We seldom got any pressure in his face," he said. "A lot of his throws were play-action passes, and came out pretty quick. It was a tough day out there for them, but it certainly wasn't just their fault."

Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck had said throughout fall camp that all signs pointed to his charges being more comfortable in the second year of his spread-option system.

The Huskers looked comfortable and confident early, not to mention dominant. They amassed 205 of their 632 total yards on their first three series with a 50-50 run-pass mix. Nebraska hadn't gone over 600 yards since 2008 against Kansas State.

Martinez had starred as a runner in his previous two openers, combining for 262 yards and six touchdowns on 26 carries.

Beck didn't ask him to run much against the Eagles. But the junior threw, usually right on target.

He completed five straight short passes to start, then missed on a throw to Kenny Bell that Wilson nearly intercepted. That was 1 of Martinez's few mistakes. In fact, he lofted a beauty of a pass to Bell for a touchdown on the next play.

After Nebraska went up 14-0 on Martinez's 26-yard TD pass, Lampley caught the kickoff in the end zone, found a giant opening up the middle and easily outran kicker Brett Maher for the second kick return touchdown of his career.

The Eagles tied it on their next possession. Sullivan nearly went down after slipping through cornerback Andrew Green's grasp, regained his feet and went the final 10 yards to the end zone for his tying TD.

The Huskers went 59 yards in 11 plays to take the lead for good, with Martinez flipping an easy TD pass to Long after drawing in the defense on the play-action fake.

The Golden Eagles, the defending Conference USA Champion, wore down in the second half in the 88-degree heat.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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