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

Tailgating policy under review after disorderly NU football fans create ruckus before Miami game

An ugly incident before Saturday’s Husker game is causing officials of the Lincoln Indian Center to consider changing their tailgating policy.

The Indian Center’s executive director, Clyde Tyndall ...

Ameer Abdullah says FSU's Jameis Winston 'has a long way to go'

LINCOLN (AP) — Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah, a candidate for this year's Heisman Trophy, says 2013 winner Jameis Winston of Florida State needs to clean up his act.

Abdullah and ...

ABC will televise Nebraska-Michigan State game

Nebraska's Oct. 4 game at Michigan State will be televised nationally on ABC, the network announced Monday. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. 

The Huskers last appeared on ...

Video: Weekly Husker football press conference

NU coach Bo Pelini and several players addressed the media Monday as the team prepares for Illinois.

Coach Bo Pelini

Running back Ameer Abdullah

Quarterback Tommy Armstrong

Linebacker Trevor Roach ...

Lunch with Tom: Replay

Hungry for some sports chat? Replay World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel's “Lunch with Tom” to discuss Nebraska’s win over Miami and more.

Live Blog Lunch with Tom: 10 a ...

Notes: Pelini seeks more info on low hit enforcement

LINCOLN — College football officials have been directed to flag defenders for low hits on the quarterback this year, and Nebraska coach Bo Pelini plans to seek clarification from the league ...

Freshman Kalu valuable in dime package for Nebraska

LINCOLN — Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis saw something before Miami lined up for a fourth-down play midway through the fourth quarter Saturday night, and the Huskers scrambled and changed coverages ...

McKewon: Roach lends a hand; Husker linebackers still look to get a handle on things

LINCOLN — Trevor Roach had never seen an offense so fast.

The fifth-year senior Nebraska middle linebacker suddenly found himself in the middle of a shootout during the Huskers’ 41-31 win ...

Shatel: Abdullah has advice for Florida State's Winston

Immature. Self-absorbed. Punk. Jameis Winston isn’t that guy.

So says Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska I-back, Heisman Trophy candidate and longtime friend of Winston.

Abdullah’s Heisman campaign has risen as ...

Beautiful noise: Huskers fed off louder than usual crowd

LINCOLN — Cornerback Josh Mitchell couldn’t hear his teammates. I-back Ameer Abdullah never remembers Memorial Stadium being louder. Offensive lineman Jake Cotton said the noise got him even more fired ...

Huskers move up in polls after win over Miami

Nebraska moved up three spots in this week's Associated Press college football poll after beating Miami 41-31 on Saturday.

The 4-0 Huskers are 21st in the poll, up from ...

Notes: Better night for Husker LB Santos

LINCOLN — Nebraska linebacker David Santos had two tackles at Fresno State, and his lasting memory from that trip was the punt that he mistakenly batted into the Husker end zone ...

Barfknecht's Big Ten Rankings, Sept. 22

World-Herald Big Ten beat writer Lee Barfknecht ranks the conference football teams as published in The World-Herald on Sept. 22.

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1. Michigan State (2-1)

Last week: beat Eastern Michigan 73-14 ...

Nebraska aims to keep takeaways coming

LINCOLN — Before the Nebraska defense forced three turnovers Saturday night against Miami, it had been 13 games since a Husker opponent had forked over the ball that many times.

NU ...

Barfknecht: Heat on Brady Hoke building quickly at Michigan

Let’s take a quick trip back in time.

Destination and date: Chicago in late July for Big Ten football media days. All the coaches address the media horde in ...

McKewon: Huskers blended controlled fury with smart plan against Miami

LINCOLN — Nothing unites Nebraskans — both natives and transplants — quite like big-city bad manners spawned by arrogance and oversight.

The Huskers had most of the advantages Saturday night. A crowd as ...

Nebraska-Miami: Five things we learned, don't know

Five things we learned and five things we still don’t know coming out of Saturday's Nebraska-Miami football game.

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Five things we learned

1. The 1994 “Pipeline” in attendance ...

Turning up the heat: Abdullah, Huskers keep pressure on in win over Miami

LINCOLN — By the end, the guts of Miami’s defensive linemen had begun to sag. The owners of those stomachs were spent, drained, gassed, softened and glazed, a wall of ...

Chat: Husker Talk Live postgame replay

Replay the Nebraska-Miami postgame chat with staff writer Rich Kaipust.

Live Blog Husker Talk Live: Game Day

Video: Husker postgame press conference

Watch video from the postgame press conference with Husker coach Bo Pelini and select players following Nebraska's 41-31 win over Miami.

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Video: Bo Pelini after Miami

Video: Ameer Abdullah ...

Quarter by quarter: Nebraska 41, Miami 31

World-Herald staff writers Sam McKewon and Rich Kaipust recap the key plays in each quarter of Nebraska's win over Miami.

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FIRST QUARTER

Brad Kaaya: Nerves? What nerves? Miami’s ...

Notes: Scoop and score turns tide back Nebraska’s way

Hanging on to a slim third-quarter lead and with the momentum seemingly slipping away, the Nebraska defense dug in Saturday night.

Make that dug out.

The momentum swung back to ...

Barfknecht: Hurricanes have no answers for Abdullah

LINCOLN — Miami came to Memorial Stadium on Saturday night ranked No. 2 nationally in rushing defense, giving up 2.0 yards per carry.

But none of the Hurricanes’ first three ...

Huskers force turnovers at critical times

LINCOLN — Nebraska’s defensive performance Saturday may not always have been pretty, but it was good enough to get the job done in a 41-31 victory over Miami.

There were ...

From the sidelines: Stadium basks in game-long salute to 1994 Huskers

LINCOLN — You couldn’t escape the nostalgia.

Not that a record-breaking Memorial Stadium crowd would have wanted to.

But everywhere you looked Saturday there were reminders of Nebraska’s 1994 ...

Emotions run high, but total Husker-Hurricane meltdown is averted

LINCOLN — Most of Nebraska’s defenders weren’t exactly sure what caused the second-half skirmishes that seemed to tightened the Huskers’ grip on the game’s momentum Saturday night.

They ...

Chatelain: Huskers ground out an old-fashioned victory

Their tickets were scattered in the nosebleeds of North Stadium. Row 86. Row 81. Two here, two there.

In a perfect world, the 1994 national championship team members would’ve ...

Shatel: It’s more than a win; 
for Husker fans, it’s cathartic

LINCOLN — Better believe this was personal.

For more than 30 years, Nebraskans have wanted Miami in their yard, with their weather, on their turf, surrounded on all four sides by ...

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' 41-31 win over Miami.

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TRACKING THE OFFENSE

The game ...

NU assistant John Garrison says Huskers ready to soften up Miami 'space-eaters'

Nebraska assistant coach John Garrison minced few words Friday when discussing what his offensive line would be up against Saturday night.

NU will see some size across the line with ...