Statistics don't lie, Joe Dailey said repeatedly.
Stats don't lie, the struggling Nebraska quarterback said again and again Saturday, all the while knowing that in this case stats deceived in a hurtful way if you bleed Husker red.
Sure, Nebraska accumulated more than twice as many first downs as Southern Mississippi. The Huskers racked up nearly twice as many total yards. If those stats didn't flat out lie, they at least distorted reality.
Because on this day, one statistic represented the hard, cold truth for Nebraska: Five turnovers, including four by Dailey.
"It's all on me," the sophomore from New Jersey said after the Huskers dropped a 21-17 decision before 77,887 sun-splashed spectators at Memorial Stadium.
Dailey tossed three interceptions and lost a fumble as Nebraska fell to 1-1.
Southern Miss, the defending Conference USA champion, converted Dailey's miscues into two field goals and a touchdown.
All told, the 1-0 Golden Eagles scored 18 points off of turnovers.
"It's really unfortunate to see a game taken away by ourselves," Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan said. "It's a tough pill to swallow."
Said Nebraska linebacker Barrett Ruud, "We basically gave one away. It was like, Here you go.' "
Nebraska lost at home to a non-conference opponent for the first time since 1991, when Washington, behind All-American defensive tackle Steve Emtman and quarterback Billy Joe Hobert, prevailed 36-21.
Nebraska fell to Southern Miss despite outgaining the Golden Eagles 476-239 and forging a 26-11 advantage in first downs.
The truth, though, was in the turnovers.
Dailey threw interceptions during practice in bunches throughout the spring and even during preseason camp. It's easy to cut him slack considering he's a first-year starter learning the NFL-style West Coast system installed by his first-year head coach.
In last week's 56-17 win against Western Illinois, Dailey's four interceptions were regarded as little more than a nuisance.
Against Southern Miss, Dailey's turnovers were Nebraska's undoing.
The game's turning point occurred with one second left in the third quarter, when linebacker Naton Stewart leaped to grab Dailey's errant throw and sped 49 yards for a touchdown. The TD pulled Southern Miss to 17-15 and gave the Golden Eagles momentum.
Nebraska had seemed to seize control early in the third quarter on Dailey touchdown passes of 9 yards to wide receiver Grant Mulkey and 13 yards to tight end Matt Herian, giving the Huskers a 17-9 lead.
"I felt good about the direction we were going," Callahan said.
Then came Stewart's interception and TD return, prompting a feeling of unease among Husker fans.
Nebraska wasn't finished committing turnovers. Husker I-back Tierre Green's fourth-quarter fumble was recovered by defensive back Darrell Bennett at NU's 49-yard line.
Two plays later, Golden Eagle quarterback Dustin Almond fired a 46-yard scoring strike to wideout Marvin Young, giving SMU a 21-17 edge.
Dailey fumbled away Nebraska's next possession, but the Huskers regained possession at their own 41 with 3:18 remaining.
Nebraska's final drive began on an ominous note, with Dailey burning the Huskers' last time out because of "substitution confusion," Callahan said.
Dailey, though, responded by firing completions of 21 yards to Ross Pilkington and 14 yards to Mulkey as Nebraska marched to Southern Miss' 12-yard line.
With 77 seconds showing, Dailey's pass to true freshman Terrence Nunn in the end zone was deflected by Bennett. On second down, Dailey missed Nunn low and outside.
After a delay-of-game penalty pushed Nebraska back to the 17, Dailey floated a pass toward the corner of the end zone for Herian, but Caleb Hendrix appeared to deflect it at the last moment.
On fourth-and-15, Dailey dropped back to pass, found nobody open and scrambled for 10 yards to the 7. That was it. No last-gasp throw into the end zone. Another questionable decision by Dailey.
"It'll be hard this week for me to eat this loss," Dailey said. "We could've beaten these guys."
Reach Steven M. Sipple at 473-7440 or email@example.com.