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.


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


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




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. and

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

NU's Nate Gerry makes a perfect analogy describing Wisconsin's offense

Nebraska safety Nate Gerry surprised reporters Tuesday by declaring Wisconsin to be the best offense the Huskers have faced so far this season.

Emails to NU administrators after Husker players kneeled during national anthem show divided public

Two-thirds of about 150 messages to NU President Hank Bounds supported the players as well as administrators’ defense of the players’ right to exercise free speech during the anthem. But about 30 of 50 messages to UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green…

Pick Six Podcast: The Wisconsin challenge, playoff contenders, Heisman talk, NBA season and weekly picks

World-Herald staff writers Sam McKewon and Jon Nyatawa tackle the hottest topics surrounding Nebraska football along with headlines across the country.

Big Ten notes: UW kicker, a friend of Sam Foltz, out for year; stat of the week and more

The hero of Wisconsin’s 23-21 victory over Nebraska last season can’t help the Badgers this year. Kicker Rafael Gaglianone, who nailed a 46-yard field goal with four seconds left for the deciding points, is out for the season after undergoing…

NU's Shawn Eichorst says proposed changes to recruiting are for transparency, but others don’t agree

The NCAA committee that proposed football recruiting reforms, which include the addition of early signing periods, wants to create more transparency and access for coaches and players in a process that has been accelerated in recent years, said a key…

Nebraska linebacker Brad Simpson’s risk with special teams rewarded

Brad Simpson didn’t know how or why he had lost his spots on Nebraska special teams, only that he wanted them back. And he was going to be proactive about it.

Barfknecht: Redemption is the theme of Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel senior’s season

It would be hard to argue any player is more excited about Saturday’s Nebraska-Wisconsin football game than UW’s Vince Biegel. Read along as we explain why this whirling dervish of an outside linebacker is so motivated.

Sam Foltz's family and Nebraska teammates give one another a lift

The corn fields of Greeley County seem to stretch forever, over the hills and through the dust and into the horizon. Harvest season is a test of endurance. Days end after midnight. Chores start before dawn.

Husker notes: Back seven prepping for a ‘boxing match’; UW line as impressive as ever; Badger back is back on track and more

Wisconsin doesn’t have the flashiest offensive stats — 24.3 points and 382 yards per game — but it has also played four top-20 scoring defenses (Michigan, LSU, Ohio State, Iowa). Nebraska, No. 14 in the nation in scoring defense, will…

McKewon: Husker receiver, returner De’Mornay Pierson-El poised for a breakthrough

He’s close to breaking a big punt return. Real close. The burst in the middle of Saturday’s 40-yard touchdown catch-and-run said so. And Nebraska junior De’Mornay Pierson-El’s line to reporters on Monday cemented it. “I’m getting into my groove —…

Houses of Husker pain: Nebraska players putting past woes on road vs. Wisconsin behind them

Pick any of the three times Nebraska has recently played Wisconsin away from Memorial Stadium, and it would be a painful Husker memory. Just the mention of Melvin Gordon, Montee Ball, Russell Wilson or Jared Abbrederis would bring back thoughts…

Shatel: Reaching out to Tom Osborne is one of the best calls Mike Riley has made

A familiar face returned to Nebraska football practice last week. It was Tom Osborne, who attended Husker practice at the invitation of Mike Riley. The two had a lengthy phone conversation a few weeks ago, just before former offensive line…

Best of TBL: Tom Shatel, Sam McKewon, Zach Potter, Nate Clouse and Adam Rittenberg talk Huskers

TBL featured The World-Herald's Sam McKewon and Tom Shatel, ESPN's Adam Rittenberg, Husker Online's Nate Clouse and former Husker Zach Potter.

Video: Mike Riley faces a friend in Paul Chryst; Husker players answer critics

Check out video of Monday's Nebraska athletics press conference featuring volleyball coach John Cook, football coach Mike Riley and several Husker players, including quarterback Tommy Armstrong, defensive back Kieron Williams and center Dylan Utter

Q&A: Husker junior kicker Drew Brown

Kicker Drew Brown has continued the family tradition at Nebraska through his first two and a half seasons. From 1995-98, Drew’s older brother, Kris Brown, helped the Huskers win national titles in ’95 and ’97.

Husker offensive schemes mirror those of Mike Riley’s Badger buddy Paul Chryst

Husker coach Mike Riley knows the Badgers’ scheme well. In a sense, it’s Riley’s own scheme. But because Nebraska and Wisconsin have very different styles of quarterback, the offenses don’t exactly look the same.

Husker notes: Jordan Westerkamp likely to return against Wisconsin

Nebraska expects to get back receiver Jordan Westerkamp this week, which quarterback Tommy Armstrong said should be a big help to the offense. The senior hurt his back against Illinois and missed the last two games.

Barfknecht's Big Ten rankings, Oct. 24

World-Herald staff writer Lee Barfknecht ranks the Big Ten football teams, as published in The World-Herald on Oct. 24.

Huskers move up to 6th in Coaches Poll, 7th in AP rankings

Last week, NU was ranked eighth in the AP and ninth in the Coaches Polls.

Notes: Unbeaten start keeps Huskers on the rise in the polls

The wins keep leading to advancement in the two major polls for Nebraska. After improving to 7-0 Saturday, the Huskers assumed the No. 7 spot in the AP Top 25. They climbed one rung with Texas A&M falling from No.…

Barfknecht: Finishing strong is the mission for Wisconsin's Corey Clement

IOWA CITY — While much of the country praised Wisconsin for taking then-No. 4 Michigan deep into the fourth quarter on the road a few weeks ago before losing 14-7, Badger running backs heard a far different message behind closed…

McKewon: Blackshirts are ready to run, but is the Husker offense?

I don’t expect Nebraska to be as error-prone and assignment-unsound against Wisconsin. The Badgers don’t have to get exotic. They just have to punch NU in the mouth, draw blood and see how the Huskers respond. The Blackshirts have given…

Kieron Williams transforms himself from frustrated backup to playmaking Husker starter

Nebraska finished last season with cornerbacks Chris Jones and Joshua Kalu joining safety Nate Gerry in the starting secondary, which left the Huskers feeling good about three-fourths of their defensive backfield going into the winter. NU wasn’t sure who the…

From the sidelines: Plenty of flash in Californian four-star recruits; sunscreen anyone?; sprint to the finish

What Saturday’s list of official visitors lacked in quantity, it made up for in quality.

Stanley Morgan, Husker receivers rise to the occasion

Despite the Huskers missing two of their top pass-catchers for a second-straight game, NU’s remaining receiving corps turned in a big game and took turns making their plays.

Game notes: Bankers 'backers make big plays; stopping Purdue's run game; Boilers brought focus

Mark Banker typically doesn’t heap praise until he watches film. But based on a simple rule of football, Nebraska’s defensive coordinator was able to talk about the success of his linebackers Saturday.

Chatelain: Huskers pass another quiz, but real tests await

There are days when everybody walks out of the stadium dissecting the state of the program. There are days when the fourth-string walk-ons play and all the moms go home happy. This should’ve been the latter.

The Gerad Parker era gets off to disappointing start, but Purdue shows signs of progress in defeat

In Gerad Parker’s first game as the Boilermakers interim head coach, progress was noticeable on the energy and effort fronts despite a 27-14 loss to Nebraska at Memorial Stadium.

Nebraska cleans up special teams knowing it can be a weapon moving forward

Nebraska set out this week to clean up some of its special teams mistakes from the Indiana game, and knowing full well how important those units will be at Wisconsin and Ohio State.

Quarter by quarter: Nebraska 27, Purdue 14

World-Herald staff writer Sam McKewon recaps the key plays in each quarter of Nebraska's victory over Purdue.