If you think Nebraska's 21-17 mistake-prone loss to Southern Mississippi on Saturday left Husker defenders grousing about turnovers, you're right. The Blackshirts were upset.

For not forcing enough of them.

Yes, for a second straight week, the Nebraska offense put its own defense in many precarious, sudden-change situations by committing five turnovers.

But that didn't seem to bother NU defenders nearly as much as the Blackshirts' inability to return the favor. Southern Miss, playing its season opener, on the road, in a hostile environment, turned the ball over just once.

"They destroyed us on turnovers," Nebraska captain and linebacker Barrett Ruud said. "Defense has to take a lot of responsibility for that. It's our job to create them, too. We only got one. Usually, you've got to get three or four to get that ‘W.' "

That's what Nebraska did last week. The Huskers forced five turnovers to offset four Joe Dailey interceptions in a 56-17 victory over Western Illinois. Their only takeaway against Southern Miss, though, was a Daniel Bullocks interception that led to NU's second touchdown.

"We want to get at least three (turnovers) a game," Nebraska defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove said. "If we get at least one more, maybe, that could change the outcome of the game."

Instead, Nebraska players were again answering questions about facing tough situations following offensive flops.

Oh, the pressure.

"No pressure. That's our job," Nebraska defensive tackle Le Kevin Smith said. "Go out and stop them. Turnovers happen. Sudden change, we go out, we're supposed to stop them. That's why we're the defense."

The Blackshirts, for the most part, held up their end of the deal.

The first two turnovers, on Nebraska's first two possessions of the game, gave Southern Miss the ball at the NU 33 and the NU 27, respectively. The Golden Eagles settled for field goals each time.

"It's not a thing where, ‘Oh, we've got to do this?' and you don't play as well," Ruud said. "Usually it kind of gets you pumped up. The key is just executing out there. A few times we didn't execute, and they got a couple of long, cheap plays on us."

Like Dustin Almond's 46-yard touchdown strike to Marvin Young midway through the fourth quarter. The game-winning score came two plays after Southern Miss recovered a Tierre Green fumble near midfield.

Nebraska's final turnover, a Joe Dailey fumble at the Southern Miss 12, killed offensive momentum but resulted in nothing for Southern Miss. The Blackshirts forced a punt after three plays, giving the offense a final chance.

"We came out, and we got our offense right back out on the field," Smith said. "I think the defense did a pretty good job."

Said Nebraska linebacker Stewart Bradley: "We go out and play defense the same, no matter where we're at on the field. Trying to play aggressive, trying to hold them to minimal gain. That's just the nature of defense. It wasn't really anything unusual for us."

So, is this something the defense will have to get used to this season?

"The offense is definitely really capable," Bradley said. "We have full confidence in them. We don't really think that we're carrying them or they're carrying us. We function as a unit, we win as a team. The offense today was generally pretty productive."

That's not to say the defense wasn't just a little frustrated. The Blackshirts held

Southern Miss to 239 total yards and harassed quarterback Dustin Almond into a 12-for-28 passing performance but left Memorial Stadium feeling empty.

"(Southern Miss) played well and they played hard, but … it wasn't like they were just stopping us and dominating," Ruud said. "We've just got to really focus on ball security. A couple of times we had guys … trying to get a couple of extra yards, and they were diving forward and they got the ball knocked loose."

Green was breaking tackles, carrying defenders with him when Southern Miss linebacker Kevis Coley poked the ball loose. Dailey was also reaching for extra yardage, only to have DeMarcus Barner knock the ball away.

"It's tough to get mad at that, because guys are giving everything they have to win a game," Ruud said. "But sometimes you've just got to maybe fall down. I don't know. It's one of those situations that's just tough all around."

A situation Ruud and others admit could've been more manageable had the Blackshirts forced some turnovers of their own.

"That will be our goal when we go to Pittsburgh," Bullocks said, "to create more turnovers and put the offense in a better position."

Reach Brian Rosenthal at 473-7436 or brosenthal@journalstar.com.