A 49-20 loss to Nebraska notwithstanding, Ellis Johnson was pleased with Southern Mississippi’s three-headed quarterback.
“When we subbed quarterbacks and switched a little bit of our game plan — let’s face it, we weren’t going to win the football game in the third quarter,” the Golden Eagles’ first-year coach said. “It was more about trying to improve our football team.”
None of the three quarterbacks who played for the Golden Eagles had ever taken a snap in a college game. Chris Campbell, a redshirt junior who was the backup the past three seasons, got the start. He passed for 69 yards, but had no yards on five carries.
Freshman Anthony Alford led Southern Miss with 84 yards rushing and completed one pass. Redshirt freshman Ricky Lloyd didn’t have as many opportunities, rushing for 5 yards and going 0-for-2 passing.
“I was interested in seeing how they handled a real game plan and a real defense,” Johnson said. “Chris did an excellent job controlling our offense. It became a little bit apparent in the second quarter that the running game was not going to be as effective with him. They were just sitting on the running back.
“When Anthony came in, the running game really exploded for several minutes. Anthony’s athleticism, even against a team like this, was impressive.”
Campbell played the majority of the first half but played sparingly after halftime. Alford drove the Golden Eagles to a field goal on his first appearance late in the second quarter.
“Our explosive plays came from the running game. Anthony is a heck of a runner. It’s like having another running back out there,” Campbell said.
“I was kind of nervous that first snap, but the next one, everything worked out fine,” Alford said. “All three of us got plays and it worked out fine.”
Johnson was much happier with his offense, which had 260 yards of total offense, than the Southern Miss defense, which allowed 632 total yards, including a career-best 354 yards passing by Taylor Martinez.
“Offensively, there were enough bright spots for us to build on,” the coach said. “Defensively, I should preface everything I say with this: I think this is a really good Nebraska team. The offense has tons of weapons and they’re physical up front. They have a shot to go a long way in their conference.”
Johnson said the Huskers have a varied offense, making it difficult to prepare for, even in a season opener.
“The thing they did well was their tempo. They run a power offense with a tempo, which is unusual, and we didn’t have the ability to keep up with them a couple of times,” he said. “I would credit their physical approach. We don’t see that very much.”
Johnson said nothing Nebraska did surprised him, although defensive lineman Jamie Collins said NU’s reliance on the passing game took its toll.
“We seldom got any pressure on him (Martinez). A lot of his throws were play-action and came out pretty quick,” Johnson said.
“The passing threw us off a little bit. But still, you have to make it go,” Collins said. “We still have to do our job, no matter who goes down. He (Martinez) mixed it up pretty good.”