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

Chance to work with QB Winston ‘exciting’ to Kenny Bell

LINCOLN — Tampa Bay went hunting for some receiver help for No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston on Saturday, and former Nebraska star Kenny Bell was one of the Buccaneers’ finds ...

Former Huskers sign rookie free-agent deals

LINCOLN — Jake Cotton immediately settled on a priority free-agent deal with the Houston Texans after the NFL draft concluded Saturday, starting his attempt to follow in the footsteps of former ...

Paul Chryst keeping coordinator is big for Badger defense

When Paul Chryst took over as Wisconsin’s football coach in December, his most important recruiting trip was also his shortest.

It involved walking down the hallway of the Badger ...

Big Ten spring look: West Division capsules

An in-depth look at each team in the Big Ten West Division, with returning starters, what we know, what we want to know and some fun facts. Check back next ...

Former Husker captain dies at 79

Former Nebraska and pro football player LaVerne Torczon died last month at the age of 79 from heart failure.

Known as “Tarzan” Torczon during his playing days with the Huskers ...

Abdullah leapfrogs Gregory as both former Huskers land in NFL's second round

LINCOLN — Former Nebraska teammates Ameer Abdullah and Randy Gregory landed in spots not that far apart Friday night in the NFL draft.

Their paths to those second-round selections were quite ...

Former Husker Randy Gregory still available after falling out of NFL draft's first round

LINCOLN — Randy Gregory closed out Thursday night by settling for a spot on the many “best available” lists rather than a spot in the first round of the NFL draft ...

Scott Baldwin dies at 45; illness led to tragedy as a Husker football player

LINCOLN — William Washington said former Nebraska teammates Scott Baldwin and Mike Grant used to go around mimicking the tag-team wrestling combination of “The Bushwackers,” and recalled being defenseless as they ...

The Big Ten Roundup with Lee Barfknecht: Replay

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

Also, check out our Big ...

McKewon: No. 2 pick could hold key to intriguing NFL draft

A wild Thursday night fit for the latest “Fast and Furious” movie should open the door to a quieter weekend for this year’s NFL draft.

As our yearly fascination ...

Mike'l Severe's 2015 mock draft

Ready for the first round? The Bottom Line’s Mike’l Severe sure is. Below is how he sees things breaking down on Thursday, the first day of the NFL ...

Sam McKewon's 2015 mock draft

Ready for the first round? The World-Herald's Sam McKewon sure is. Below is how he sees things breaking down on Thursday, the first day of the NFL draft.

* * *

1 ...

Husker Talk Live: Replay

Replay Tuesday's "Husker Talk Live" chat with World-Herald staff writer Sam McKewon to get his take on the latest Nebraska football headlines.

For more Husker football coverage, follow Sam ...

Ameer Abdullah’s brother helps carry some of running back’s load — as his agent

LINCOLN — It all made sense at the start, when Ameer Abdullah enlisted the help of his older brother to begin vetting potential agents for the former Nebraska I-back as he ...

Nebraska among schools that would favor football helmet transmitters for games

LINCOLN — Throughout Nebraska spring football and then the Red-White scrimmage, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf utilized a wireless system that allowed him to communicate with his quarterbacks through a transmitting device ...

Incoming Husker Devine Ozigbo strives to be a complete back

LINCOLN — Devine Ozigbo watched Nebraska’s spring game. The 2015 Husker signee at running back liked what he saw, both from his future teammates/competitors at the position, and what ...

Randy Gregory’s failed drug test means increase in research from clubs lower in draft

LINCOLN — There was a time several weeks ago when teams picking after No. 10 in the first round of the draft maybe didn’t need to invest much into their ...

McKewon: Canes underachieved, but remain a threat to Huskers

Make sure to also check out the capsules of Nebraska football's four nonconference opponents next season — BYU, South Alabama, Miami and Southern Miss — including key departures, positions of strength ...

Capsules: Husker nonconference foes pose a challenge

A capsulized look at the Nebraska football's four nonconference opponents next season — BYU, South Alabama, Miami and Southern Miss. The breakdowns include key departures, positions of strength, quarterback situations ...

Scrutiny of the red flags of NFL draft picks as exhaustive as ever

The pressure for the upcoming NFL draft is as much on team decision makers as it is on the players hoping to build a career in professional football.

While general ...

Deep running back class, including former Husker Abdullah, awaits NFL draft

LINCOLN — The consensus is that Todd Gurley won’t have to wait long to hear his name called Thursday night when the NFL draft begins, and that Melvin Gordon also ...

Davis twins are on track to help Nebraska in two sports

It became much easier Thursday to see Carlos and Khalil Davis wearing different Nebraska uniforms in the spring of 2016.

Once the ’16 Red-White game is in the books, the ...

Nebraska's matchup with Michigan State set for prime time

Nebraska's Nov. 7 football game against Michigan State will be shown in prime time, the Big Ten and its television partners announced Thursday.

The game will be at 6 ...

Nebraska lawmakers drop political football for football with Mike Riley

WASHINGTON — Husker football coach Mike Riley told a group of Nebraskans on Wednesday that he’s energized to be molding a new football team and impressed with the warm welcome ...

McKewon: Huskers hope recruits gravitate to them with satellite camps

LINCOLN — A freshly brewed college football recruiting Cold War has a couple of Alabama guys ticked.

Well, if you can’t rile up a Crimson Tide man every so often ...

Husker Talk Live: Replay

Replay the "Husker Talk Live" chat with staff writer Rich Kaipust his take on the latest Nebraska football headlines.

Live Blog Husker Talk Live: Noon

Report: Former Husker assistant coach Ron Brown joining Turner Gill’s staff at Liberty

LINCOLN — In January, former Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown said he was following fired Husker coach Bo Pelini to Youngstown State because of Pelini’s “courage” and “loyalty.”

According ...

Celebration honoring Fiala set for Thursday

Family and friends of Adrian Fiala have organized a “Celebration of Life” for the former Nebraska athlete and broadcaster, to be held Thursday night at the Champions Club across from ...

Stability of Mike Riley coaching staffs lures Brian Stewart to NU

LINCOLN — Brian Stewart had no direct connection with new Nebraska football coach Mike Riley before being hired as the Huskers’ secondary coach in late February.

But Stewart knew people who ...

Chatelain: Monument to Brook Berringer and Tom Osborne still touches an entire state

The lot was mostly empty Saturday afternoon when two old friends pulled in and parked illegally. They climbed the steps and approached the front door of Nebraska football headquarters. They ...