Game Day: Nebraska vs. Illinois

Pelini's puzzle

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini says the 3-1 Huskers are close to finding the right fit — of players, of playing style — on both units, and are ready to prove something. But questions remain. How will the quarterback storyline play out? Has the defense regrouped? Can Nebraska walk the tightrope to Big Ten title contention? What happens in Saturday's conference opener could go a long way toward providing some answers.

READ MORE »

2-Minute Drill by Rich Kaipust

Nebraska rush offense vs. Illinois rush defense

Nebraska is getting good production from I-back Ameer Abdullah, who has rushed for at least 98 yards in all four games so far and ranks third in the Big Ten at 116.2 per contest. NU also will hit the Illini with an offensive line that is playing well and depth in the backfield. Illinois failed its biggest challenge against Washington, when Huskies tailback Bishop Sankey ran for 208 yards and a TD. Edge: NU

Nebraska pass offense vs. Illinois pass defense

Husker quarterbacks have been efficient so far, completing 70.3 percent of their passes with 11 TDs and just one interception. Redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong isn't as polished as Taylor Martinez, but he and Ron Kellogg are surrounded by good targets. Illinois' first three opponents passed for 300-plus yards before Miami only attempted 15 throws against the Illini. Edge: NU

Illinois rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

Illinois has to be licking its chops after South Dakota State tailbacks gouged the Husker defense for 8.8 yards per carry and were never tackled for a loss. The Illini have averaged only 37 attempts a game, so the emphasis will be on getting the most out of those runs and keeping the NU defense honest. Edge: Illinois

Illinois pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

Illinois senior Nathan Scheelhaase has been a pleasant surprise in his transition from dual-threat quarterback to a pro-style offense. He ranks No. 10 nationally in passer efficiency and leads the Big Ten with 290.5 yards per game. Nebraska will have to find a way to generate some pressure, but also remember that he can be a dangerous runner if allowed to escape the pocket. Edge: Illinois

Special teams

Illinois has edges in both kickoff and punt return numbers, although Kenny Bell appears to be closer and closer to breaking some kick returns for Nebraska. The Huskers lead all Big Ten teams with 20 touchbacks on kickoffs and rank third in net punting (39.7 yards). Illinois already has missed three field goals. Edge: NU

Intangibles

Both teams have struggled defensively, but Nebraska has forced 10 turnovers compared to just four for the Illini. NU also is coming off a bye, and is 4-0 over the last four seasons in games after a week off. Illinois is leaving its home state for the first time after three games in Champaign and one in Chicago, and the Illini won just four "true" road games since 2008. Edge: NU

Key matchup: NU safeties vs. Illinois' deep pass

It might be a big Saturday for Corey Cooper and the Nebraska safeties with Illinois' propensity for throwing the football down the field (22 pass plays of 20-plus yards). It also could be a welcome change from the first four opponents completing 63 percent of their passes with a variety of shorter throws mixed in. The issue for the Huskers is that their safety play hasn't been great, and it's unclear who will take most of the snaps next to Cooper.

Nebraska wins if ...

Its defense can force some turnovers and avoid the huge play.

Illinois wins if ...

It can give Tommy Armstrong a rude welcome to Big Ten football.

Our take

Illinois already has scored 161 points, more than any previous Illini team ever put up in the first four games of a season. Nebraska is averaging 43.2 per game despite a scoreless second half against UCLA and a let-up against Wyoming. So the bottom line might be which of the porous defenses (NU ranked No. 107, Illinois at No. 92) can piece together a few stops — or which offense can score last. If the conditions are at all a factor, the Huskers have an ace in the hole with their running game.

Our prediction: Nebraska 40, Illinois 35

Live updates

 

Videos

Extras

Printable rosters

Looking for a handy reference guide that you can take to the game? Check out our two-page printable roster, sorted by jersey number and including height, weight, year in school, hometown and high school information. Click here »

On social media

Check out the Big Red Today page on Facebook to discuss the latest news with the top Husker fans, and follow us on Twitter to get instant updates and analysis whenever news breaks.

BRT app

iPhone and Android users, get your Husker updates on the go by downloading our free Big Red Today app from the App Store and the Google Play store. Omaha.com/BRTapp and Omaha.com/android

Game notes

Check out a PDF of the game notes for the Nebraska-Illinois game provided by the Huskers athletic department. Click here »

Recruiting updates

Visit the Big Red Today recruiting page to find the latest updates on potential future Huskers, including player cards for those athletes already committed. Click here »

Email alerts

Sign up for the Big Red Today email newsletter to get the Husker news, analysis, daily headlines and more delivered to your inbox. Click here »

Big Ten coverage

Look for additional updates on our Big Ten page to get the best coverage of the conference from both The World-Herald and some of the best writers from across the country. Click here »

Big Red Today coverage

Defensive coordinator John Papuchis pouring himself into Husker finale

LINCOLN — It’s just one more game, for a Nebraska football team that he will then be leaving, but it means more than that for Husker defensive coordinator John Papuchis ...

Husker notes: Gregory, Gangwish to play against USC

LINCOLN — Two key players for Nebraska’s Holiday Bowl game will be ready Dec. 27 when the Huskers play USC.

All-America and All-Big Ten defensive end Randy Gregory, who missed ...

Contracts for Nebraska’s new assistants are released

LINCOLN — Nebraska hasn’t officially designated roles for its four newest assistant coaches just yet, but they’ll all be compensated with a larger paycheck than a year ago.

NU ...

Book excerpt: Osborne, Kiffin take on duties for Devaney

“Devaney: Birth of a Dynasty” by The World-Herald’s Henry J. Cordes tells how Bob Devaney reorganized his staff following consecutive 6-4 seasons.

The 280-page hard-cover book, filled with photos ...

Riley discusses staff, recruits in interview

LINCOLN — Mike Riley said Thursday night that the decision to keep Charlton Warren on the Nebraska football coaching staff was an easy one.

During a brief appearance on “Sports Nightly ...

McKewon: Pelini’s message negative for team

» EXPLICIT: Listen to Bo Pelini's final speech to the Husker players

» Read the full transcript of Pelini's comments here

» University of Nebraska statement: 'We are extremely disappointed' in ...

Hansen: Bo Pelini talks of core values but lacks more than a few

» EXPLICIT: Listen to Bo Pelini's final speech to the Husker players

» Read the full transcript of Bo Pelini's comments here

» University of Nebraska statement: 'We are extremely disappointed ...

Former Nebraska A.D. Steve Pederson fired by Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Steve Pederson deftly guided Pittsburgh through conference realignment from the crumbling Big East to the rebuilt ACC. The longtime athletic director could never find stability for the football ...

Nebraska response: 'We are extremely disappointed' in Bo Pelini

» Bo Pelini insults A.D. Shawn Eichorst in expletive-filled talk during final meeting with players

» Read the full transcript of Pelini's comments here

» Instant reaction: Former players, media, fake ...

Bo Pelini transcript: I'd rather work at McDonald's, former Husker coach says

» EXPLICIT: Listen to Bo Pelini's final speech to the Husker players

* * *

In a closed-door meeting, former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini addressed his former players two days after his Nov ...

The Big Ten Roundup with Lee Barfknecht: Replay

Replay Wednesday's "Big Ten Roundup" chat with World-Herald staff writer Lee Barfknecht to see his take on news from around the conference.

Also, check out our Big Ten page ...

Video: Bo Pelini introduced at Youngstown State

Watch Bo Pelini's introductory press conference as head coach at Youngstown State the university's YouTube channel.

See more on the former Husker coach's hiring at Youngstown State ...

Paul Chryst returns to Wisconsin, leaves Pittsburgh after three seasons

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Paul Chryst is back at Wisconsin, settling into familiar surroundings in his hometown.

This time, with a bigger office.

Chryst was hired Wednesday to coach the Badgers ...

Lineman Mike Moudy says Huskers motivated, ready to let loose

LINCOLN — Bowl games that don’t impact the national championship can be a time for fun and experimentation.

So when it was suggested to Nebraska guard Mike Moudy that he ...

Bo Pelini pumped to go to Youngstown State, work for Jim Tressel

LINCOLN — A reporter asked Bo Pelini about the terms of his still-developing contract at his introductory press conference Wednesday, and the new Youngstown State coach joked that he’d already ...

Shatel: One more round of drama for Bo Pelini, Husker football

» EXPLICIT: Listen to Bo Pelini's final speech to the Husker players

» Read the full transcript of Pelini's comments here

» University of Nebraska statement: 'We are extremely disappointed' in ...

Exclusive audio: Listen to Bo Pelini's speech in final meeting with Husker players (Explicit content)

Warning: The following audio has explicit content.

* * *

In a closed-door meeting, former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini addressed the Husker players two days after his Nov. 30 firing.

Listen to Pelini ...

Pelini slams Eichorst in vulgar talk during final meeting with players, says A.D. 'has no integrity'

» EXPLICIT: Listen to Bo Pelini's final speech to the Husker players

» Read the full transcript of Pelini's comments here

» University of Nebraska statement: 'We are extremely disappointed' in ...

Bo Pelini officially named Youngstown State coach

LINCOLN — Former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is headed home.

Youngstown State, an FCS program in Pelini’s hometown, officially announced the hiring Tuesday afternoon. Pelini’s taking over the Penguins ...

Huskers Ameer Abdullah, Randy Gregory named AP All-Americans

The accolades keep coming for Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah and Randy Gregory.

Abdullah earned second-team All-America honors from the Associated Press on Tuesday. Gregory was awarded third-team All-America honors after ...

Husker Talk Live: Replay

Scroll through the "Husker Talk Live" chat with staff writer Sam McKewon to get his take on the latest headlines, including new Nebraska coach Mike Riley and former coach Bo ...

Warren set to remain part of Huskers’ staff

LINCOLN — Charlton Warren appears set to remain part of the Nebraska football coaching staff, news that hasn’t been announced officially but was confirmed Monday night by Husker defensive back ...

Husker notes: Mike Riley checks out bowl practice

LINCOLN — Mike Riley watched his future team practice Tuesday, and the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27 will be the Huskers’ last game before the former Oregon State head coach takes ...

Husker offensive coordinator Tim Beck has pride and no regret

LINCOLN — Tim Beck had no comment Tuesday when asked what happens after Dec. 27, sharing nothing about who he has contacted since Mike Riley was named the replacement for Bo ...

Lunch with Tom: Replay

Hungry for some sports chat? Join the “Lunch with Tom” chat at 10 a.m. as World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel discusses the future of Husker football and more.

Live Blog ...

Riley says staff will include some from Nebraska

LINCOLN — Nebraska coach Mike Riley told national radio host Tim Brando that he’s already going after one assistant on the previous Husker staff and may soon reach out to ...

Tales from the hiring of Devaney

Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst’s hiring of Mike Riley as football coach was accomplished quickly and quietly.

“Devaney: Birth of a Dynasty” by The World-Herald’s Henry J. Cordes ...

Newest Husker recruit talks softly, carries big skill set

LINCOLN — Nebraska’s newest commit for the 2015 recruiting class opts for brevity when asked for his favorite high school football memory.

Dedrick Young, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound athlete from Peoria ...

Shatel: Forecast is bright for UNO hockey but a little foggy for CU and NU basketball

The local weather gurus have their winter forecast. I have mine. The difference: My six-inches-of-snow/65-degrees line runs through the middle of the CenturyLink Center. My forecast for:

» UNO hockey ...

Nebraska-USC tie in 1970 proved important

Nebraska and USC will play for the fifth time in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27 with the Trojans holding a 3-0-1 record in the series.

But that 1970 tie ...