Pick Six

Eric Lee, No. 6, celebrates after returning an interception for a score early in the second half. It was one of three non-offensive touchdowns for the Huskers.

LINCOLN — Two defensive touchdowns and a punt return touchdown saved a sub-par offensive performance in Nebraska’s 35-21 win over South Alabama on Saturday.

Nebraska’s lead grew to as many as 21 points thanks to a pick-six from Eric Lee and a punt return score from JD Spielman. But turnovers, poor offensive line play and playmaking from USA quarterback Cephus Johnson kept the game close.

South Alabama entered the fourth quarter down 28-21. But a forced fumble from Cam Taylor recovered in the end zone by Alex Davis, coupled with two picks from Taylor and Eric Lee in the fourth quarter kept the Jaguars at bay.

Adrian Martinez finished the day 13 for 22 for 178 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. Dedrick Mills started at running back and had 15 carries for 44 yards and two scores. Maurice Washington did not play the first half, but did in the second, with six carries for 39 yards.

Taylor recorded five tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss, had one forced fumble and two picks. Mohamed Barry led the team with 12 tackles.

Nebraska is now 1-0 for the first time under Scott Frost. They’ll travel to Colorado next week.

Offensive line issues stunted Nebraska’s offense in the first half. NU averaged just 1.3 yards per carry against the Jaguars from the Sun Belt Conference, getting little to no push up front. And high snaps from first-year starter Cam Jurgens threw off all offensive rhythm.

Martinez completed passes for 14, 17 and 42 on the opening drive, which led to a 1-yard score from Mills for a quick 7-0 lead.

On Nebraska’s second drive, an ugly three-and-out and poor punt put South Alabama across the 50. A sack from Will Honas pushed USA back to a third-and-17, but a late hit penalty on Deontai Williams saved the Jags. Three plays later, Williams missed quarterback Cephus Johnson in the backfield, and Johnson walked in to tie it up 7-7 with 5:32 left.

Corner Lamar Jackson smoked Johnson on a corner blitz on the next drive, popping the ball out, and Carlos Davis recovered it.

But a 20-yard loss due to a bad snap killed that drive for NU.

Nebraska got the ball back on a bad punt, this time in USA territory, and drove down to the 5-yard line. It then took seven plays for NU to finish off the drive, but Mills finally did, with a 1-yard run.

A JoJo Domann tackle for loss stalled the next USA drive. The Huskers recorded three sacks and eight tackles for loss Saturday.

Nebraska’s defense held South Alabama to just three yards in the second quarter.

But NU led just 14-7 at the break.

In the second half the defense and special teams cleaned up the offense’s mess.

On third-and-8, Lee picked Johnson off and returned it 38 yards for the score.

The next drive, Spielman bobbled a punt, found a few blockers, tight-roped the sideline and returned a kick 76 yards for a score to blow the game open to 28-7. It was Spielman’s third career return touchdown as a Husker in three years.

But Spielman muffed the next punt he tried to field, which South Alabama recovered and turned into points to close the gap to 28-14.

Washington and center Will Farniok started the second half for Nebraska. Washington moved 29 yards on his first three carries. On first down, Martinez tried to find Washington up the seam but was picked off, his first interception of the season.

Johnson then marched the Jaguars down into the redzone in four plays. On third-and-7, Johnson found Kahmeron Taylor for a 9-yard touchdown to cut the lead back down to seven.

Taylor decleated Johnnson and forced a fumble of the day, which Davis recovered for six points.

Mills fumbled near midfield later in the fourth, giving USA yet another possession with great field position. A 19-yard connection between Johnson and Kawaan Baker put the Jags near the red zone. On third-and-7, Taylor caught a tipped pass and returned back to midfield.

He and Lee sniffed out picks in the final quarter to keep the game at 35-21.

Nebraska’s offense did next to nothing with the extra possessions, gaining just 65 yards in the second half.

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