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.

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

Nebraska adds Omaha Skutt record-breaker Christian Banker as preferred walk-on

Omaha Skutt wide receiver Christian Banker has accepted a preferred walk-on opportunity at Nebraska.

Barfknecht: Lovie Smith hopes early spring football practice start helps Illinois focus, deal with injuries

The Illini opened practice on Valentine’s Day, making them the early birds of the 130 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Recruiting: Nebraska will join forces with Kansas, other Adidas schools for junior college prospect camp

Husker football coaches will be in attendance for a junior college prospect camp on July 22 hosted by Kansas, according to a flier tweeted by the Jayhawks' director of recruiting.

Former Huskers Nate Gerry and Cethan Carter are projected to be picked, but Nebraska may face another thin NFL draft

Nate Gerry and Cethan Carter might carry the best hopes of Nebraska prospects, but overall lukewarm projections leave the Huskers looking at a lean NFL draft for the second time in five years.

Dwayne Johnson lands at Texas Tech after transferring from Nebraska

Nebraska senior offensive lineman Dwayne Johnson has left the program and will pursue transfer options after he graduates in May with a degree in criminal justice and criminology, a Husker spokesman confirmed Wednesday. Huskers Illustrated first reported the news.

Big Fat Recruiting Update: Where does Nebraska go from here?

The Huskers have to be happy with their haul to this point. They’re hovering around the top 10 nationally in the recruiting ratings thanks to a lush star-rating-per-prospect. Life’s pretty good in The Good Life. So, what now?

Former Husker Will Compton, Redskins agree to contract extension

Restricted free agent linebacker Will Compton re-signed with the Washington Redskins on Monday.

Recruiting: After opening evaluation period with 'Nebraska Swarm,' NU coaches moving on to 'Husker Heartland'

Nebraska’s first priority of the spring evaluation period was to “swarm” its own state. The Huskers hit high schools in every corner of Nebraska over the last week, but now the coaches are expanding their range.

Nebraska's Chris Jones has big plans for himself and reconfigured Blackshirts in his final season as a Husker

Given where Chris Jones plays on a football field — out on an island at cornerback, just a man and his assignment — perhaps it makes sense. The senior who may be NU’s best overall player doesn’t talk much to…

Jordan Westerkamp ended Husker career injured, but is now hopeful for opportunity in NFL

As one of the most successful receivers in Nebraska football history, Jordan Westerkamp knew a little something about adjusting routes and finding ways to make things work. The last four months have been a little like that, too.

Husker coaching staff makes connections across state during high school tour

Nebraska’s staff spread out, “swarming the state” and promoting it hard on social media. All told, the Husker staff made close to 50 stops six days after the spring game.

Recruiting: Three takes on the commit of Chase Williams

Nebraska received its eighth known verbal commit for the 2018 class on Sunday evening from Corona (Calif.) Centennial wideout Chase Williams. Three quick thoughts on his decision.

Nebraska gets commitment from four-star athlete Chase Williams

Nebraska football kept its recruiting roll going Sunday evening when Corona (California) Eleanor Roosevelt athlete Chase Williams verbally committed to the Huskers via a video he released on Twitter.

Husker A.D. Shawn Eichorst had big hand in shaping NCAA recruiting reform

Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst was a key architect of a massive recruiting reform package — one Husker coaches supported — that was passed April 14 by the NCAA Division I Council.

Shatel: Style under Mike Riley may change NFL’s thinking about Husker quarterbacks

It’s been a long, long time since Nebraska had a quarterback play quarterback in the NFL. A long time since NU had a quarterback drafted as a quarterback.

Barfknecht: Alignment can be over-hyped; Wisconsin tailoring system to talent is tried and true

Maybe it’s wise to check out what has worked for the Big Ten’s most consistent defense recently — Wisconsin — which conveniently also is among the programs the Huskers have to conquer to get out of the West Division.

Twitter roundup: Husker coaches canvas the state during swarm of visits

Several Nebraska football coaches had a busy day Friday, swarming the state visiting potential 2018 and 2019 recruits. Here's a few of the coaches' tweets pinpointing the high schools they visited throughout the day.

On Husker radio show, coach Mike Riley hints at more commitments on the way

Nebraska officially has seven commitments for the 2018 class. But on Mike Riley’s Husker Sports Network radio show Thursday night, the coach said NU has nine commitments — which means two of them are “silent” unannounced verbal pledges — with…

Huskers rank 10th in ESPN's updated recruiting rankings with four commits in top 300

Nebraska has never had a recruiting class finish better than 17th in ESPN's rankings. The Huskers' 2018 class currently ranks in the top 10. ESPN released Thursday its updated player rankings for the 2018 class, and the Huskers have four…

New satellite camp rules fit into Husker coach Mike Riley’s plans, which include events with fellow Adidas schools

Riley said Wednesday he was pleased the NCAA Division I Council voted last week to significantly regulate how many camps college coaches can work, and where those camps can be held.

Recruiting: Marquez Beason gave Nebraska one of its earliest commitments, but that's nothing compared to Cameron Jurgens

The 10 recruits that were committed to Nebraska earliest in their respective recruiting cycles, and the current Husker commits that have a chance at cracking this list.

Husker coach Mike Riley names Tanner Lee as starting quarterback, praises Patrick O'Brien and Tristan Gebbia

Nebraska split practice time evenly this spring as QBs Tanner Lee and Patrick O'Brien battled for the starting job. NU coach Mike Riley announced Wednesday that the job is now Lee's to lose.

Huskers' offensive line feels urgency to run the ball better, aims for better consistency in 2017

David Knevel said the Nebraska offense seemed to find traction this spring with a particular outside running play, with “pinners and pullers” and a design that the right tackle thought was a good fit for Husker linemen.

Pick Six Podcast: Nebraska spring football, Husker recruiting, NU-CU baseball, Bluejay basketball

World-Herald staff writers Sam McKewon and Jon Nyatawa tackle top local topics and the hottest headlines from across the country in the April 18 edition of "The Pick Six Podcast."

Rutgers’ offense in for another revamp with Jerry Kill's addition to the coaching staff

No need to scour the dictionary for flowery phrases to describe Rutgers’ football offense last year when one word will do: Inept. Maybe “inept” should be in capital letters considering the Scarlet Knights were last nationally in total offense (283.2…

McKewon: 10 spring standouts moving up Huskers' wide-open depth chart

For Nebraska’s 2017 football team, picking out the big movers isn’t the hard part. It’s limiting the list to just 10. That’s because Nebraska arguably has its youngest and least experienced roster since 2011, the season after the Huskers had…

Recruiting: D-lineman Calvin Avery keeping Nebraska among lead suitors after attending spring game

Teammate of NU signee Damion Daniels plans to make decision after senior season.

Recruiting: Nebraska target Judge Culpepper has good impression of Huskers after spring game

Prized defensive line/tight end prospect "definitely" keeping Nebraska in the mix

Husker receiver JD Spielman credits work in redshirt season for promise he’s shown in spring

Spielman got a taste of what he’s been waiting for with four receptions and a touchdown in the Red-White scrimmage Saturday.

Recruiting: Nebraska nabs an Easter Day commitment from Colorado DE Tate Wildeman

Nebraska’s newest commit for the 2018 recruiting class won’t have to learn the nuances of defensive coordinator Bob Diaco.