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.

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

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

Former Husker kicker Kris Brown, four others chosen for Nebraska Hall of Fame

As Kris Brown prepared for one of the most important kicks of his college career, the goalposts were still moving a little. “As if it weren’t hard enough,” the former Nebraska kicker said.

Barfknecht: Illini A.D. lovingly chose alma mater’s coach, but work to be done on the field

When Illinois hired Josh Whitman as athletic director five months ago, he needed no research to learn what kind of football program he inherited. He played in it from 1997-2000 as a four-year starting tight end.

Thanks to exchanges with Fake Bo Pelini, Nebraskans got to know the real Mike Sadler

It all started randomly, like everything Faux Pelini does. Two days before Christmas 2013, one of college football’s great characters (and caricatures) tweeted at Michigan State’s All-America punter, Mike Sadler.

Recruiting: Huskers dive back into recruiting with recent offers

After a quiet month of July with Nebraska coaches taking much-needed time off, the Huskers seem ready to dive back into the world of recruiting.

Big Ten notes: Fant makes good first impression with Beathard, Hawkeyes; Memorial Stadium memories and more

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was eating dinner with three of his players in Chicago on Monday when his quarterback brought up an impressive freshman tight end from Omaha.

Nebraskans pay tribute to Sam Foltz at site of accident

Omahan Dennis McCann was in Wisconsin last weekend to visit his daughter, her husband and his two grandsons. The family also took in a Cubs-Brewers baseball game in Milwaukee.

In Sam Foltz's hometown, loss is 'like a death in the family'

When he trotted onto the field at Memorial Stadium, the announcer boomed: “Sam Foltz. Punter. Small-town, USA. Greeley, Nebraska.” If a town could cry, tears were pouring down the face of Greeley on Monday.

Shatel: Tragedy brings Huskers, Big Ten closer together

What was striking was the number of other media types and school officials who stopped me in the hallways to see how Nebraskans were doing. You could see the pain in their eyes. They wanted to help. And some had…

Accident takes Husker kicker Drew Brown’s close friend — Sam Foltz, his ‘hero’

Late Saturday night, Foltz died as the passenger in a fiery car crash on a wet, two-lane road near Merton, Wisconsin. Brown, who also worked at the Kohl’s Kicking Camp over the weekend with Foltz, learned of the crash before…

Shatel: B1G TV deals take away any excuses Nebraska, Big Ten not to excel

Hold onto that lotto ticket, Nebraska. No news is still good news for the Big Ten, but the lack of fireworks here Tuesday was surprising. Conference media days are where splashes are made, and we expected Jim Delany to do…

Nyatawa: Sam Foltz was an impressive player and person

I arrived early to Husker practice just so I could watch Sam Foltz kick. That’s what I told an NU assistant when he walked up and asked why I was standing by myself on the Memorial Stadium sideline.

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany mum on TV details, but hints he may not be around to negotiate the next deal

Jim Delany held to his policy of not confirming any speculation on dollar amounts for the new contracts signed with FOX and ESPN.

Nebraska special teams coordinator Bruce Read, punter Caleb Lightbourn still following Sam Foltz’s lead

At the end of the specialists’ portion of football practice, Nebraska special teams coordinator Bruce Read would sometimes gather his kickers, punters, snappers and holders for a brief word. When Read was done, he said, he’d turn to Sam Foltz.

Huskers come together to grieve Sam Foltz: 'A part of everybody in the state died over the weekend'

Players and coaches will feel the impact most, sports psychologist Jack Stark said. And working through stages of grief — from shock to an eventual, gradual acceptance — will take time. At some point, Stark said, players will feel anger,…

Barfknecht: Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh can let his team's talent do the talking

The load of star power is why Michigan has been a surprise entry in many preseason top 10s. Bring it on, Harbaugh says. “We want our dreams to be big and our goals to be lofty,” he said.

Big Ten notes: No Huskers make preseason watch list; Claeys kicking around idea

For the first time since Nebraska joined the Big Ten, the Huskers do not have a representative on the league’s preseason watch list. The conference doesn’t release an official coaches’ poll or a position-by-position all-league squad. Instead, the Big Ten…

Sam Foltz was part of elite group of Husker walk-ons who earned scholarships

“We saw the ball coming off his foot and we were like, ‘Man, I think he’s a punter,’ ” said former Nebraska walk-on coordinator Jeff Jamrog. Foltz was also a part of a 2012 walk-on class that ranks among the…

Big Ten media days open with somber tone after accident claims lives of Sam Foltz, Mike Sadler

The unofficial start to the league’s football season was still worth celebrating, but seemingly everyone — whether behind a camera or in front of it — wanted to take a moment to express sympathy and support for the two conference…

Big Ten coaches extend sympathy to Huskers, say there are no easy answers after losing a player

At Big Ten media days Monday, Nebraska’s peers extended sympathy following Sam Foltz’s death. None, however, spoke with as much experience as Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald, who understands the challenges Mike Riley will face over the coming months — and the…

Shatel: Like Brook Berringer, like Brian Hiemer, Huskers again deal with stunning loss of Sam Foltz

One of the benefits of following college football is being around these young men at a great time in their lives — for many, it’s the time of their lives. It’s truly a joyful thing, and a terrific escape from…

Husker punter Sam Foltz — 'universally loved and respected by everyone he touched' — dies in car wreck

Over the weekend, Foltz was working a punting camp in Wisconsin, and died as a passenger in a car that struck a tree in Merton, Wisconsin.

Barfknecht: Big Ten media days will have refreshing theme — football

Let’s get something straight about Monday and Tuesday’s Big Ten media days. Regardless of what happens — even if (or when) Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh rides in on a unicorn to tell of a satellite camp on Mars — it…

McKewon: Don’t get defensive (or do) over 2016 list of top Big Ten players

On the eve of Big Ten media days, here’s a bold prediction: The league might be even better on defense than it was last season. And last season was pretty terrific, with five teams in the nation’s top 20 scoring…

Senior back Terrell Newby determined to deliver better Husker ground game

Terrell Newby outlined his mindset for his senior season at NU and improving the Huskers’ running game, a key to the team bettering its 6-7 record from last year. “It’s time to get to a graduate level of knowing this…

Shatel: Huskers at home in Big Ten, ignoring call from the past by Big 12

Enough already. Folks, it’s not happening. Nobody in charge at NU wants to return to the Big 12. Very few Husker fans I know or hear from want it to happen. The vessel is pointed north and east after the…

Former Husker coordinator Tim Beck saw year of adjustments at Ohio State

Many months removed from last season — OSU finished 12-1 with a 17-14 last-second loss to Michigan State — Beck is excited and optimistic about his second season in coach Urban Meyer’s program.

Huskers' John Parrella feels urgency to succeed; 'We need to be great now'

Nebraska defensive line coach John Parrella will open preseason camp in two weeks with a defensive line that has a combined nine career starts and a host of underclassmen waiting and needing to contribute.

TBL: Husker recruiting report with Nate Clouse, talking latest prospects and more

Husker Online's Nate Clouse joined host Mike'l Severe on "The Bottom Line" on Monday for a Nebraska recruiting update. They discussed the list of potential prospects Nebraska is targeting, the biggest area of need for the team and more.

McKewon: Preseason magazines see QB Tommy Armstrong setting Huskers' tone

Head over to the magazine section. There, you’ll find that most college football pundits think Nebraska’s season rides on fourth-year starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who graces the covers of the Athlon and Lindy’s annuals, his right arm cocked, scanning downfield,…

Ex-Husker player, assistant Marvin Sanders feels special bond coaching Los Angeles prep team

Sanders will always be a Blackshirt — he still has his old Nebraska helmet on a shelf in his office. But the former NU player and assistant has a new home now. And he’s pouring all he has into it.