South Alabama coach Steve Campbell knew why his Jaguars lost to Nebraska on Saturday. They turned the ball over five times, resulting in 14 points for Nebraska and shutting down USA's second-half comeback attempt.
“When you have more total yards, more first downs, I think we were, third-down efficiency, a little better than them and all that, then to come up short, that tells you what a big stat turnovers is,” Campbell said. “You can look at explosives and all that stuff all you want to. Still it’s a game of turnovers. Give them credit. They did a great job of creating them and capitalizing on it. That’s the mark of a good football team.”
Quarterback Cephus Johnson was responsible for four of the five of the turnovers, two picks and two fumbles, one of which was recovered in the end zone for a Husker touchdown.
“I made a couple of costly mistakes that I can’t afford to make,” Johnson said. “They came with some corner blitzes I wasn’t paying attention to.”
Johnson’s first mistake came two minutes into the second half when Nebraska’s Eric Lee picked off a pass and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown.
Less than two minutes later, JD Spielman returned a South Alabama punt 76 yards to put Nebraska up 28-7 and threaten to blow the game open.
“It got right there on the brink,” said Campbell, who got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty protesting a call on the ensuing kickoff return. "That was when I threw my little — to make sure we’re not going to go there. I loved the way the guys finished. We actually cut it to seven after being down. The guys fought. … I think we just kind of ran out of time.”
South Alabama scored 14 straight points late in the third quarter to cut the Nebraska lead to 28-21 and opened the fourth quarter facing a second-and-9 at its own 12. Nebraska’s Cam Taylor-Britt came flying in off the edge, hit Johnson as he was attempting to throw. Nebraska’s Alex Davis got the ball at the goal line and scored, putting the Huskers back up by 14.
“What we told our offensive line is, ‘Look, they’re really struggling running the football against our defensive line. And you all get to go against that every day. We ought to be able to create some creases,’” Campbell said. “But give Nebraska credit. Their defensive line played extremely well today. I thought it was two good run defenses.”
South Alabama's defense bogged down Nebraska’s high-powered offense, holding the Huskers to 276 total yards, 98 of them on the ground.
The Jaguars succeeded in that effort. But they struggled to move the ball consistently. That, Campbell said, should be credited to the Blackshirts.
“Nebraska’s defense is much improved,” he said “I watched all 12 (2018 Nebraska) games ad nauseam all summer. They’re better. That big nose guard, the transfer (Darrion Daniels), he helps them. That (No.) 7 — his name is (Mohamed) Barry, right? — is a great player; 22 (Alex Davis) is a great player. Those two brothers at the D-ends (Carlos and Khalil Davis) are really good players. The corners I think separate them from people. The corner blitz created two turnovers. That’s 14 points. There you go."