LINCOLN, Neb., Sept. 23 - Best isn’t good enough for first-year Nebraska defensive coordinator Bo Pelini. The Cornhuskers are No. 1 in the nation in total defense heading into Thursday night’s game at Southern Mississippi and Pelini still isn’t satisfied.
InsertArt(2022329)“IT’S ONLY THE THIRD WEEK of the season,” he said. “We feel good about what we’ve accomplished up to this point, but that’s about it. When you start talking about it and worrying about it, you can fall into a trap.
“We’re not a finished product by any means.”
The Huskers have relied on their defense so far while their offense has struggled to find consistency. They’re first in fewest yards allowed, at 208 a game, and rank in the top 10 in each of the five major statistical categories.
Nebraska has given up 10 or fewer points in each game — the first time since 1984 that the Huskers have been so stingy through three games. They have not allowed a point in the second half. In fact, no team has penetrated the Huskers’ 30-yard line after halftime.
The Huskers have yet to allow a rushing play of longer than 17 yards. Only five opponent pass plays have covered 20 yards or more.
“Looking at the papers and seeing yourself No. 1, that’s pretty cool,” cornerback Pat Ricketts said. “But we’re only a quarter of the way through the season. At the end of the season, if it’s that way, we’ll definitely be highlighting that. Right now, that’s just incentive.”
“It’s pretty easy to get there, but it’s hard to stay there,” cornerback Fabian Washington said. “If we finish the season No. 1 in defense, that’s saying something.”
On paper, Southern Mississippi’s offense would appear to be no more of a threat than any of the Huskers’ first three opponents.
The Golden Eagles are 97th out of 117 Division I-A teams in total offense (299.3-yard average), and they’re 108th in scoring (14.0 ppg).
Southern Miss will be without quarterback Micky D’Angelo, who will miss the game because of a concussion. Sophomore Dustin Almond will start in his place.
“They’ve made some mistakes and have been up-and-down,” Pelini said. “It’s a pretty good offense, a good scheme, and they have some playmakers. It will be a good test for us down there on the road.”
Pelini said he expects his charges to play at least as well as they have at home.
Though M.M. Roberts Stadium, better known as “The Rock,” seats just 33,000, it is regarded as a hostile environment for opponents.
“You have to feed off each other rather than feed off the crowd,” Pelini said. “You have to have more passion in your play. Our guys will respond the right way, but it will be a test. It’s always different the first time on the road.”
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