Husker interceptions keep Southern Miss at bay

(top)NU'S BOBBY NEWCOMBE LIES on the turf in the back of the end zone after dropping a touchdown pass in the second quarter on Saturday. Newcombe also fumbled a punt that led to USM's first touchdown.



At the start of the fourth quarter Nebraska sophomore cornerback Keyuo Craver had to be helped off to field because of cramps.Craver had gone head-to-head with Southern Mississippi standout receivers Todd Pinkston and Sherrod Giddeon all day long and appeared to be out of gas.However, somewhere on the NU sideline, Craver must have found his second wind because not only did he return, he was a Cornhusker hero Saturday, intercepting two late fourth-quarter passes from Golden Eagle quarterback Jeff Kelly to preserve NU's 20-13 win.The second interception came with 1 minute and 21 seconds remaining and Southern Miss on the NU 14-yard line. Nearly all of the 77,826 fans in Memorial Stadium were on the edges of their seats, hoping the NU defense could stop the Golden Eagles one more time.Craver said he had a feeling that he would be picked on again. The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder was right.Kelly dropped back and threw the ball one more time toward Pinkston, who had already made 11 receptions for 163 yards, but this time the ball sailed on Kelly and went right to Craver at the 1-yard line.The interception all but sealed the game for the Huskers."I remember the play happening," said Craver, who also had four pass breakups. "The main thing going through my mind was to catch the ball. I was in a huge zone. I blocked out everything else."Craver's interception was just one of many times that the NU defense bailed out the Huskers on Saturday.Not even the defense could relax though, until the clock finally expired.After Craver made the final interception, Nebraska's offense decided to make things interesting, again.On the first play, sophomore quarterback Eric Crouch - starting his first game of the season - fumbled the ball but luckily recovered it on the NU 4-yard line."We were running out onto the field and had five seconds left on the play clock," said Crouch, who threw two interceptions. "Things were rushed."Crouch replaced junior Bobby Newcombe, who moved to wingback after starting NU's first two games under center. Newcombe, too, had his fair share of struggles, dropping a pass in the end zone and fumbling a punt return.The fumble was one of five on the day for the Huskers. NU lost three of them. The five turnovers led to all of Southern Mississippi's points.Two of the Huskers' three touchdowns came on Eagle turnovers. Both were scored by linebacker Julius Jackson - one on a fumble in the first quarter and the second came on an interception in the fourth quarter.NU's offensive turnovers were enough to throw the Huskers out of sync, Crouch said."We started to move the ball on several drives - and then the turnovers," Crouch said. "We were really close to breaking open our offense - and then the turnovers. We just killed ourselves with the turnovers."On the day, NU racked up 185 yards of total offense and eight first downs.Like the past two weeks, it took the Huskers a while to get the offense moving. NU didn't record a first down until the second quarter.On that drive, which would be the only one the offense would score on the entire game, Nebraska drove 46 yards on eight plays.Willie Miller scored from eight yards out to give the Huskers a 12-7 lead with 9:45 remaining in the second quarter. The two-point conversion failed.The Huskers had put their initial six points on the board in the first quarter by way of a Jackson's 16-yard fumble return.The fumble was caused by Kyle Vanden Bosch, who beat his man and laid out Kelly."He just looked like a big hamburger out there," said Vanden Bosch, who also recorded two sacks. "I just wanted to clobber him. He didn't see me coming and I got a good hit on him, and the ball popped loose."The defense was called upon to make big plays all day.The Eagles held a five-minute advantage in time of possession and ran 28 more plays than NU.While many defenses would have tired and become less effective, NU's was still making big plays down the stretch.Vanden Bosch credited the effort to the heart of the Blackshirts."As the game wore on, it seemed we were out there all the time," said Vanden Bosch, who made nine tackles. "We really had to dig deep and tell ourselves to get after it because we were starting to get winded. We had to suck it up and keep going."The lack of production by the offense also motivated the defense to suck it up and try to score."Every time we get in the huddle, Carlos (Polk) is saying we got to score," Vanden Bosch said. "The sign of a good defense is not only getting done what needs to be done, but also making the big plays - getting interceptions and fumble recoveries - and scoring yourself."After Craver tipped a Kelly pass in the third quarter, Jackson intercepted the ball and rumbled 28 yards for his second touchdown."He has great hands," defensive coordinator Charlie McBride said sarcastically. "If you look at them real close, they look like the bottoms of skillets. I think the ball must have bounced off his face mask about four times before he really did catch it."But I will tell you one thing, the world's sprint champion couldn't have caught him from behind when he caught that thing. He was rolling."Jackson's score gave NU an 18-12 lead. Dan Alexander, who rushed 16 times for 57 yards, scored the two-point conversion to give the Huskers the seven-point lead.After the game, Crouch and the rest of the offense was apologetic of its performance and vowed to not rely so heavily on the defense next week in Missouri. The Huskers took 41 carries for 119 yards and recorded just eight first downs - their fewest since 1968."I already talked to some of the defensive guys," Crouch said, "and I told them, 'next week we are going to try to make it easier on you.'"