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

Pick Six Podcast: March Madness, Creighton hoops, Big East realignment, Husker spring football, Oscar movies and more

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

Recruiting: Nebraska targeting pass-rushing outside linebackers to fit new 3-4 defense

Nebraska has started recruiting to fit Bob Diaco’s new 3-4 defensive scheme, and finding pass-rushing outside linebackers will be a big focus. The Huskers offered within the last 24 hours at least four prospects that fit the same mold —…

What’s the catch? Husker quarterback Tommy Armstrong works at receiver ahead
 of pro day

Tommy Armstrong was always going through the quarterback drills during Nebraska practices, but Keith Williams would notice from time to time just how naturally Armstrong would handle the football or catch it when thrown his way.

Shatel: Winding road with many connections led Mike Riley's confidant Dan Van De Riet to Nebraska

One of the most powerful men in the Nebraska football program never played football at all — well, one year he did suit up — and somehow, he found his way to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he goes to work every…

Kade Warner, son of former NFL QB Kurt Warner, will join Huskers as preferred walk-on

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound son of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner announced his decision to sign with the Huskers late Thursday night on Twitter. He will join NU as a preferred walk-on over identical offers from ASU, UCLA, Iowa,…

Recruiting: Nebraska sets dates for Friday Night Lights camps

The Friday Night Lights events drew top national prospects — and were open to the public — last summer, becoming a hit with recruits and Husker fans alike.

Trent Bray stays put and gets raise, pushing Nebraska assistant salaries near $4 million

Nebraska’s assistant football coaches are set to collectively earn nearly $4 million next season, according to recent updates to their contracts, and every assistant will eventually have a deal that runs through the 2018 season.

Cethan Carter, Nate Gerry will represent Nebraska at NFL combine

Cethan Carter and Nate Gerry were teammates, roommates and good friends through their Nebraska football careers — and now both will head next to the NFL combine.

Recruiting: Nebraska ups pursuit of big-bodied wide receivers with recent offers

Keith Williams has upped his pursuit of a big-bodied receiver in the early days of the 2018 recruiting cycle. He extended three offers this week to receivers that measure 6-3 or taller, and the majority of the 17 wide receivers…

Examining new Husker assistant Bob Elliott's recruiting results over last decade

New Nebraska safeties coach Bob Elliott has recruited a variety of positions in the last decade. Some of those signees have gone on to be key contributors, while others struggled to ever find the field.

New Husker safeties coach Bob Elliott is respected technician who has worked in the territory

Bob Elliott has officially been named Nebraska's new safeties coach. The World-Herald reported last week that the longtime assistant was expected to join the Huskers' staff as Brian Stewart's replacement. Nebraska made the news official Monday when it announced Elliott's…

Shatel: Husker hire Bob Elliott has veteran coaching chops, Midwest football know-how

Elliott has a college coaching career that spans four decades. He’s the caliber of a coach along the lines of Milt Tenopir, Charlie McBride, George Darlington and Ron Brown. In short, he could have coached for Tom Osborne.

From Bob Diaco's influence to emphasis on 500-mile radius, 10 storylines for Nebraska's 2018 recruiting class

Bob Diaco has a vision for the personnel he wants in his 3-4 scheme. That's one of the major storylines for Nebraska as it starts to put together its 2018 recruiting class.

Nebraska hopes to go 2 for 2 with quarterback targets Tanner McKee, Colson Yankoff

Should Nebraska’s dream scenario play out, it would sign Colson Yankoff and Tanner McKee as scholarship quarterbacks in February 2018.

McKewon: 25 recruits to watch for Huskers' 2018 recruiting class

Nebraska’s march toward the 2018 recruiting class has already resulted in three commitments — Cameron Jurgens of Beatrice, Masry Mapieu of York and Eric Fuller of Los Angeles. Who might join them? Here are 25 names to watch.

Former Husker defensive coordinator John Papuchis named North Carolina DC after Gene Chizik steps down

Linebacker coach John Papuchis is being promoted to defensive coordinator. Before joining North Carolina in 2015, Papuchis spent seven seasons as an assistant with Nebraska, including three seasons as defensive coordinator.

Huskers are expected to hire veteran coach Bob Elliott to coach safeties

Nebraska is prepared to bring a veteran hand to a young defensive staff with the addition of Bob Elliott.

Huskers looking to neighboring Missouri to stock next recruiting class

In his signing day press conference, coach Mike Riley made a point of mentioning NU’s need to win more recruiting battles in the 500-mile radius. He then zeroed in on Missouri.

Recruiting: Early scholarship offers can benefit Nebraska's 2018 class like they did in 2017

Nebraska just wrapped up the 2017 recruiting class, but the Huskers are already about to enter an important stretch for the next one.

Soaring Rocket: Freshman McKenna Minter, daughter of former Husker Mike Minter, already among state’s best players

As the daughter of a former Nebraska football star, Lincoln Northeast freshman McKenna Minter already faced high expectations. The 5-foot-8 guard has delivered.

Pick Six Podcast: NU's 3-4 defense, 2017 recruits, Bluejay basketball, Super Bowl 51 and more

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

Recruiting: WR Kade Warner, son of new hall of famer Kurt Warner, went under radar but will visit Nebraska

Kade Warner, who set the Arizona state record for career receptions with 241, will take a visit to Nebraska this weekend. Kade's dad is Kurt Warner, who found out Saturday he was headed to the NFL Hall of Fame.

Crete native Lyle Sittler helped coach Bob Devaney turn Nebraska into a winner

Bob Devaney started the Nebraska football turnaround in 1962, and Lyle Sittler was right there as the Huskers went 28-5 and played in the Gotham, Orange and Cotton bowls during Devaney’s first three seasons.

Notre Dame assistant Bob Elliott to meet with coach Mike Riley about NU's open assistant position

Bob Elliott last month lauded the Nebraska hire of Bob Diaco as defensive coordinator. Elliott now might be among the candidates to join him on the Husker staff.

Paying with 
a chance to play: Defensive line coach John Parrella sees ‘serious potential’ in Central City's Jordan Paup

Jordan Paup once hurdled an offensive lineman to break up an extra-point try. He outruns most high school receivers and can squat upwards of 465 pounds.

In survey, Huskers' 2017 class gets positive marks; Fans expect Tyjon Lindsey, Jaylin Bradley to have impact

A poll of World-Herald readers gave Husker coaches overwhelmingly positive reviews for their work putting together the 2017 recruiting class.

Husker recruiting roundtable: Experts analyze Nebraska's 2017 class

This year’s signing day is over. Let the analysis begin. Here’s a look at how three recruiting experts break down Nebraska’s recruiting class of 2017.

Opportunity knocks for incoming Husker defensive linemen

A year ago, Mike Riley had a mess on his hands. At what might be the most important group on a football team — the defensive line — NU was starting over.

Mike Riley still supports earlier official visits after coaches 'chickened out' on summer signing period

College football coaches have voiced unanimous support for an early signing period in December, but Mike Riley said on signing day that “we chickened out” when it came to implementing one for the summer.

From the archives: Tommie Frazier's surprise signing provided a Big Red boost — and shocked his own mother

On Feb. 4, 1992, a young quarterback from Bradenton, Florida, shocked the nation — and his own mother — when he chose to become a Husker.