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.

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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

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Big Red Today coverage

The Big Ten Roundup with Lee Barfknecht: Replay

Catch up on what World-Herald staff writer Lee Barfknecht had to say in Wednesday's "Big Ten Roundup" chat, tracking the latest news from around the conference.

Live Blog The ...

Purdue focuses defense on big plays — in the air

LINCOLN — Nebraska ranks in the middle of the Big Ten in passing offense, and sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong’s completion rate is equally modest at 54.5 percent.

But the ...

Purdue preview: Boilermakers rising alongside their offense

By the numbers

3-5: Overall record (1-3 in the Big Ten)

5.32: Offensive yards per play (T-87th nationally)

5.72: Defensive yards per play (80th)

-3: Turnover margin (T-93rd ...

Shatel: Playoff rankings set stage for month of mayhem

So this is the playoff, huh?

I’m intrigued.

So three of the top four are from the Southeastern Conference West division?

Check back next week, see how that goes ...

McKewon: Husker running back commit garnering more attention

LINCOLN — Nebraska’s most talked-about commit for the 2015 class has been on several unofficial visits to campus since he committed in early February.

But Saturday will be New Orleans ...

Nebraska football ranks fourth in graduation rate among Big Ten schools

The Nebraska football team had a Graduation Success Rate of 81 percent, the NCAA announced Tuesday. The ranking is fourth among Big Ten schools.

The GSR is an NCAA measurement ...

Husker Talk Live: Replay

Replay Tuesday's "Husker Talk Live" chat with staff writer Jon Nyatawa to track a discussion of the latest Husker headlines.

Live Blog Husker Talk Live: Noon

Big Ten notes: Struggling Hawkeye offense loses running back, wide receiver

Iowa’s offense, already stuck in a rut, revealed Tuesday it will have two fewer weapons to choose from.

Tailback LeShun Daniels was ruled out for the season with foot ...

Husker notes: Other Blackshirts benefit when Randy Gregory draws a crowd

LINCOLN — Defensive end Randy Gregory actually was triple-teamed a few times during Saturday’s game against Rutgers, though defensive coordinator John Papuchis isn’t sure how often that’ll happen ...

First College Football Playoff rankings put four from SEC West in top six

GRAPEVINE, Texas (AP) — The College Football Playoff selection committee has spoken — and it likes the SEC.

At least for now.

Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn and Mississippi are the top ...

Barfknecht: Joel Stave’s return drives Badgers’ resurgence

You’re a football fan, I’m a football writer, and quarterback is the most important position in the game we follow. So when there is news about Big Ten ...

It’s no snap, but Huskers' Ryne Reeves is getting hang of playing center

LINCOLN — About once a week during the summer, junior Ryne Reeves met with the guy he’d be battling for playing time this fall.

Reeves had spent time at the ...

McKewon: Starting at No. 15 in playoff rankings, Huskers have a shot

LINCOLN — There’s a chance.

Before we address how the SEC continues to rule college football — including three of the top four spots in the initial College Football Playoff poll ...

Former Husker Slauson out for season with Chicago

On Monday, the Chicago Bears announced that former Nebraska offensive lineman Matt Slauson will miss the rest of the season.

The starting guard suffered a torn pectoral muscle on Sunday ...

Video: Bo Pelini, Husker players at weekly press conference

Bo Pelini and several Husker players addressed the media Monday as the team prepares for Purdue.

The Huskers say they're much fresher than they've been in the past ...

Lunch with Tom: Replay

Hungry for some sports chat? Join World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel at 10 a.m. for an early edition of “Lunch with Tom” to discuss Nebraska’s win over Rutgers and ...

Notes: Abdullah earns weekly honor for fourth time

LINCOLN — Perhaps the Big Ten offensive player of the week award should just stay on Ameer Abdullah’s dresser.

The Husker I-back won the honor for the fourth time this ...

Q&A with Husker defensive tackle Kevin Williams

The defensive tackle made his first career start against Rutgers, replacing Vincent Valentine. It capped a long road back for the junior from Holland, Ohio, who suffered a bad ankle ...

Abdullah is piling up honors

Nebraska senior I-back Ameer Abdullah was rewarded for his record-setting performance on Saturday against Rutgers with a slew of awards on Monday.

Abdullah racked up a school-record 341 all-purpose yards ...

Nyatawa: Staying sharp one detail NU is looking for

LINCOLN — There’s a troubling quirk within Nebraska’s game-day mentality that occasionally catches coach Bo Pelini’s attention, and could become costly down the road.

When the Huskers hold ...

South Carolinian’s first trip to NU: priceless

Greg Nicholson was so excited walking up to Memorial Stadium for the first time on Saturday, he was shaking.

“I tell you what, I know I had a lot of ...

Nebraska's Gerry is flourishing in return to safety

LINCOLN — The Nebraska coaching staff wasn’t going to get any argument from Nathan Gerry.

Gerry had filled a need last season at linebacker, which also gave him a chance ...

Fresher Huskers fortified for the November grind

LINCOLN — The grind of November — the final, firmest test of a college football team’s mental and physical toughness — sits on Nebraska’s doorstep.

But decisions made this summer by ...

Shatel: Playoff Committee lists won't alter flow of season

If there had been a college football playoff in 1971, the Big Eight would have had three teams in (Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado). Let’s see the SEC top that ...

Husker progress pleases coach Miles

Nebraska, still 20 days away from starting the basketball season, is progressing in practice at a rate that has pleased coach Tim Miles.

The Huskers scrimmaged Sunday against Kansas State ...

Nebraska sees little change in week 10 polls

A 42-24 win over Big Ten newcomer Rutgers wasn't enough for Nebraska to impress poll voters. The Huskers stayed fairly planted in both the AP and coaches polls on ...

Ballcarriers suffer as Zaire Anderson gets comfortable with Huskers

LINCOLN — Zaire Anderson has been waiting to make plays like this since becoming a Nebraska linebacker.

It just took some time.

“I’m really starting to get used to what ...

Notes: Abdullah running up the stats

After another impressive performance Saturday, senior I-back Ameer Abdullah is leading the country in a few key statistical categories.

Abdullah helped Nebraska put away Rutgers in a 42-24 win with ...

McKewon: Big Ten needs to earn committee’s respect

LINCOLN — Expect some hand-wringing when the first College Football Playoff rankings come down Tuesday night and ESPN’s various talking heads dissect every inch of it. ESPN has its flaws ...

Tracking the Husker offense, defense

World-Herald staff writer Jon Nyatawa takes a look at Nebraska's effort on both sides of the ball during the Huskers' 42-24 win over Rutgers.

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Tracking the offense

The game ...