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

All the recruits: How the Huskers' 2018 commits fared in high school games this week (Aug. 18)

A player-by-player look at how all 10 of Nebraska's 2018 recruits performed, individually and as a team, during games played during Nebraska's bye week.

McKewon: Husker defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has a plan, and the Blackshirts have a new vibe

Camp Feel Good. That’s the Huskers’ training camp in 2017. The players walk with a collective pep, which is odd for the August grind. Whether it lasts into the season remains to be seen, but Bob Diaco has jolted the…

Competition suits Nebraska tight ends to a tee with each Husker battling to start

Time spent on tee boxes and greens this summer is starting to help the Husker tight ends. The summer camaraderie is spilling onto the football field as Jack Stoll, Connor Ketter, Tyler Hoppes and the rest compete for the starting…

Shatel: Former Husker Adam Carriker has lots to offer in new career path

Adam Carriker will appear on Omaha.com and “The Bottom Line,” offering opinions on Nebraska football, breaking down games, answering fans’ questions and posting video reaction after games. If you haven’t ever heard him, you’re going to love him.

Recruiting: Wait winding down for Nebraska commit Cameron Jurgens

It's been more than two years since Cameron Jurgens committed to Nebraska, and the time is fast approaching when he'll officially become a Husker.

Husker redshirt freshman receiver JD Spielman ready for test after months of study

Fake it till you make it. The motto flashed through JD Spielman’s mind often during his first 12 months as a college football player. So far, there has been more pretending than the speedy wide receiver cares to admit.

WR Manuel Allen dumps Nebraska, another chapter in Huskers' receiver recruiting drama

Nebraska's 2018 recruiting class got smaller Thursday evening when Corona (Calif.) Centennial wide receiver Manuel Allen announced on Twitter he was decommiting from NU and flipping to Louisville.

Husker notes: Freshman receiver Tyjon Lindsey proves to be fast learner; New looks for offensive line

A big play at Nebraska’s Thursday practice pitted two top-100 recruits against each other.

Huskers' Dicaprio Bootle pushing for big role; small corner likes ‘beating up receivers’

He’s not a tall cornerback. He’s not built like a safety. Dicaprio Bootle is one of the smaller scholarship players on Nebraska’s 2017 roster, which lists him at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds. The height seems a little generous.

Recruiting: Nebraska pursuing several 500-mile radius defensive targets for its 2018 class

The Huskers have recently offered a pair of defensive recruits from bordering states, continuing a push to close out the class on that side of the ball with targets from within the 500-mile radius.

Husker notes: Bray says linebackers are making strides; Freedom’s role in new defense and more

If and when Nebraska needs depth at linebacker, Trent Bray is more confident than ever in maintaining quality. The NU linebackers coach said Tuesday that the “4” part of Bob Diaco’s 3-4 defense has made noticeable strides in the last…

Recruiting: Nebraska extends scholarship offer to Iowa's No. 1-rated recruit

Nebraska made an entry Monday night into the recruitment of consensus four-star John Waggoner. He's the top-ranked recruit in Iowa, according to all the major recruiting services.

Barfknecht: After standout season, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is only getting better

Note to Big Ten defensive coordinators: Don’t read this column at meal time. Maybe don’t peruse it at all, so you can dodge the queasy feeling that comes with figuring out ways to slow down Penn State running back Saquon…

NU punter Caleb Lightbourn years ahead of last season, responding to approach of new Husker coaches

Lightbourn’s reality changed in the spring, when new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said he would coach punters directly. For Diaco, every detail makes a difference.

Shatel: A head-to-toe NU volleyball indoctrination; If he plays, no mop-up time for freshman QB Gebbia

It’s no secret Nebraska volleyball stands out from the other Husker sports. There are reasons for that. I might have found another one.

Speedy junior Mikale Wilbon having ‘very good camp’ in four-way battle for Husker running back job

Already having established himself as Nebraska’s fastest running back, Mikale Wilbon has been working to earn another title before the Sept. 2 opener against Arkansas State.

McKewon: With Adidas deal and coming Big Ten windfall, A.D. Shawn Eichorst has vision for Huskers’ future

Nebraska just got three times as much money and Adidas apparel per year at a time when the Big Ten’s full share is about to kick in. How did Shawn Eichorst pull that off?

Husker sophomore Mohamed Barry works to master inside linebacker role so instincts take over

With a chance to make significant contributions in Nebraska’s new 3-4 defense, Mohamed Barry has been fine-tuning two areas of his game.

Intensity of Huskers’ youthful but experienced defensive staff rubs off on players

Mike Riley has never worked with a group of defensive assistants this young. All played college football in the not-so-distant past. All are well-regarded recruiters eager to meet prospects. In the months that the staff has been together, team workouts…

Husker notes: Young Huskers exuding confidence as Nebraska takes step forward with Saturday's scrimmage

Coach Mike Riley said NU worked on third-down, red zone and “high red zone” plays — those start around the opponents’ 40-yard line — and mixed in a few drives. Unlike Thursday, when the offense struggled at times to deal…

Mike Riley 'real impressed' with Tristan Gebbia as true freshman makes case to be Huskers' backup QB

While playing as a true freshman wouldn’t be “the best thing for him,” quarterback Tristan Gebbia has impressed coaches so much during the first half of training camp that they’d consider pulling his redshirt if needed.

Nebraska chancellor expects Huskers will never host Friday night football game

At the University of Nebraska Board of Regents meeting Friday, UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green told regents he'd been talking with the Big Ten, which created the Friday night TV package with Fox Sports 1, and does not think NU will…

TBL: Husker commit Cameron Brown done with recruiting, says Nebraska feels like home

Cameron Brown made one commitment to Nebraska that only lasted a month, so now that he has rejoined the Huskers' 2018 recruiting class, is he going to stick this time?

NU regents approve 11-year, $128 million deal to keep Huskers with Adidas

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln will stay in an exclusive contract with Adidas and will get more than $128 million in cash and goods over 11 years.

Injuries to wide receivers put Huskers in 'bit of a bind,' Mike Riley says

Nebraska wants to open up its passing playbook this season, and NU coaches believe Tanner Lee is the quarterback who can do it. But NU is running low on healthy scholarship receivers who can catch Lee’s passes.

Husker freshmen Patrick O'Brien and Tristan Gebbia 'very close' in battle for No. 2 QB spot

Nebraska knows Tanner Lee is its starting quarterback. Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf hedged Thursday on which backup — between Patrick O’Brien and Tristan Gebbia — is No. 2.

Barfknecht: Injured Wisconsin linebacker Jack Cichy knows underdog role all too well

Sometimes, real life interrupts the best plans of football coaches and columnists. Big Ten West Division favorite Wisconsin got a real-life slap in the face Thursday with news that All-America candidate Jack Cichy is out for the season with a…

Husker notes: Devine Ozigbo’s improved diet pays off; Progress made ‘day by day’

Devine Ozigbo has looked slim and trim this training camp. He’s stayed in the weight room, which has helped, but most importantly, he said, he stayed in Lincoln instead of going home to Sachse, Texas, over the summer.

Shatel: NU assistant Trent Bray’s choice to stay in Lincoln shows Diaco Effect isn’t limited to players

We’re expecting a Diaco Effect this season. That’s why the defensive guru was hired. It’s on his résumé. It’s in his voice. It’s in his coaching. Impact. How long will it take for Diaco to have that impact? Good question.

NU's John Parrella, Blackshirts seeking defensive line depth through versatility behind an established first unit

DaiShon Neal insists he doesn’t get excited for games. Yes, he knows it sounds funny coming from a redshirt sophomore with two career tackles.