LINCOLN — New Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis had an unusual way of preparing for the season opener against Southern Miss.
He read the newspapers.
With a completely new coaching staff, the Huskers weren’t sure to expect from the Golden Eagles, so he kept an eye on the newspapers in Mississippi.
“I found it ironic in terms of our preparation,” Papuchis said. “I know sometimes we’re given a hard time about our closed practices — and to a certain extent righfully so, you need to be able to do your job — but all our information on what they did came from the beat writers.
“What plays they run, how they run, who they’re giving the ball to, who looked good in practice, who would start, who wouldn’t.”
In any event, it worked out pretty well for the Huskers. The NU defense held Southern Miss to 260 total yards, including just 75 through the air.
When you figure in that Southern Miss scored one of its touchdowns on a 100-yard kickoff return by Tracy Lampley, then those final stats look even better.
“Looking for new guys to step up, I thought it was a good day,” Papuchis said. “Was it perfect? Not even close. When you look at the defense and say 13 points, 260 yards, three sacks, that’s more what we want to be. It’s not where we want to end up.”
But the Huskers won’t be preparing blind any more. This week, Papuchis won’t have to read the paper. He’ll have game film from UCLA’s opener against Rice to watch as the Huskers prepare for the game against the Bruins Saturday in Los Angeles.
“All their coaches are new coaches,” senior defensive end Cam Meredith said of Southern Miss. “We really didn’t know what to prepare for. We were watching three different films during the whole week, so we really did not know what they were going to throw at us. We prepared every type of defense, every type of offense we were going to see. I felt like we were prepared and I felt like we did a lot of stuff today that we can learn from.”
Like tackling. There were times, especially in the first half, when the Huskers didn’t tackle well.
“We do have to get better at tackling,” senior linebacker Will Compton said. “Overall, I think we did a pretty good job. We were aggressive as far as calls. We threw in a lot of stuff and I thought that was a good thing, especially with the new faces out there on defense.”
The Huskers once again had trouble on third down, a problem that hounded them last year. Southern Miss converted on 7 of 14 third-down conversions.
That’s not good from the Huskers’ side of things, but Papuchis said sometimes the third-down conversion stat is misleading.
“Some of their third down conversions were third-and-short,” Papuchis said. “What that tells me is we didn’t do the job we needed to do on first and second down. They had two quarterback sneaks on third-and-one. That’s on our first and second downs.”
The Golden Eagles also caused the Huskers trouble with their form of the wildcat with Anthony Alford at quarterback. Alford led Southern Miss in rushing with 15 carries for 89 yards.
“Toward the end of the game there, end of the third quarter, fourth quarter, they were running a wildcat-type offense with their quarterback,” NU coach Bo Pelini said. “You just do the math. It’s not easy to deal with that, especially when you don’t know what sets and what structures they’re going to do it out of. There were some adjustments that needed to happen, and I thought our guys reacted pretty well. I thought we did a lot of good things defensively.”