Rebels face humbled Cornhuskers today

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 26, 2002

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) &045; After playing for a national championship a year ago, Nebraska wasn’t expecting to be in the Independence Bowl this season.

The Cornhuskers finished the regular season 7-6, their worst record since they went 3-6-1 in 1961. They hope to maintain their winning record in today’s bowl game against Mississippi (6-6).

It’s an entirely different scene than usual for Nebraska, down to the questions about the conspicuous lack of Husker fans in town for the game.

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While Ole Miss has nearly sold its entire 12,000-ticket allotment, Nebraska officials estimated they’d sell no more than 6,000 tickets to the 50,000-seat Independence Stadium.

”The game’s only a couple days after Christmas, it’s pretty far from home, and it’s pretty tough to get flights in here,” Nebraska split end Ross Pilkington said. ”A lot of people will watch it on TV. We know people will still be supporting us.”

Nebraska hasn’t looked more beatable in decades, and it shows in the way Ole Miss players talk about their meeting with the Cornhuskers.

Mississippi linebacker Eddie Strong talks of disrupting the Cornhusker offense by roughing up option quarterback Jammal Lord.

”He keeps the ball more than he pitches. If we hit him in the mouth, he’ll pitch it more and we’ll take him out of the game,” Strong said.

Ole Miss, which runs an explosive but inconsistent passing attack led by Eli Manning, is back in Shreveport for the second time in four seasons.

Despite both teams’ struggles this season, the Independence Bowl, sponsored by MainStay, holds the potential to be an entertaining, high-scoring contest given how both squads have struggled on defense.

Lord ran for more than 1,300 yards this season, while running back Dahrran Diedrick surpassed 800.

They’ll test an Ole Miss defense that only recently has started to come together.

”We know they’ve got a fast defense,” Diedrick said. ”So it’s going to be up to the running backs to find the creases and make the big plays.”

After allowing 200 rushing yards to SEC doormat Vanderbilt earlier this season, the Rebels allowed only 213 yards combined in their last two games against LSU and Mississippi State.

”We’ve gotten more comfortable at this point,” Strong said. ”People understand their responsibilities now and have been eliminating mistakes. Now, we just have to keep it going against Nebraska.”

Ole Miss has struggled to run the ball. Lord outrushed Mississippi’s entire team by a couple hundred yards this season. Manning has carried the load for the Rebels, passing for 3,088 yards with 20 touchdowns.

Nebraska defensive coordinator Jeff Jamrog wants to see if he can stop Manning with pressure up front rather than overloading pass coverage.

”Our emphasis is to stop the run and then to make him throw and throw it in a hurry,” Nebraska defensive coordinator Jeff Jamrog said. ”If we stop the run, we like our chances of winning the game. The big thing we’re trying to emphasize is take away the football.”