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

McKewon: Husker staffers fan out across nation, looking to fill recruiting needs

Off the heels of its 40-10 loss to Iowa, Nebraska football this week jumped headfirst into national recruiting coast-to-coast. And the Huskers weren’t shy on social media about sharing where they were headed, sending a message without a single comment…

Recruiting: Husker coaches to finish week with heavy presence in 'Calibraska'

The Nebraska coaches have California on their mind as they close out their first week of the contact period.

Recruiting: Defensive line coach John Parrella meets with five-star defensive end Robert Beal

Nebraska defensive line coach John Parrella on Wednesday had an in-home visit with consensus national Top 100 prospect Robert Beal, who is rated by ESPN as the nation's No. 1 defensive end.

NU's Jordan Westerkamp, Nick Gates named to All-Big Ten teams

Nebraska receiver Jordan Westerkamp and offensive tackle Nick Gates were named third-team All-Big Ten selections Wednesday as the league released its offensive units.

Recruiting: Nebraska one of 10 Power Five teams to not lose a recruit this cycle

Decommitments are an inevitable reality in college football recruiting, but that hasn’t been the case for Nebraska during this cycle.

Recruiting: Nebraska's wide receiver board continues to grow as Keith Williams hits the trail

Nebraska wideouts coach Keith Williams hit the recruiting trail ready to extend some scholarship offers.

Recruiting: Michigan linebacker Andrew Ward still high on Huskers

The first in-home recruiting visit Nebraska coach Mike Riley made this week was to a linebacker that often goes under the radar but continues to be interested in the Huskers.

Return to ‘Lockdown U’: Nebraska cornerback Chris Jones announces he'll return for his senior season

Nebraska cornerback Chris Jones announced Tuesday on Twitter that he's returning for his senior season.

Huskers drop out of College Football Playoff rankings following loss to Iowa

The Huskers dropped out of the latest College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday, following NU's 40-10 loss to Iowa last weekend.

Husker safety Nate Gerry named second-team All-Big Ten, four other Blackshirts picked as honorable mentions

One of the most productive defensive backs in Nebraska football history continued to do the same with postseason recognition.

McKewon: Husker coaches hit the road to add recruits to 2017 class

Nebraska's football coaches on Monday hit the recruiting trail in an effort to finish their 2017 recruiting class.

Health woes hobbled Husker offense, as numerous injuries to starters took their toll late

Nobody around college football ever expects to go through any season injury-free, of course, but the big and little things definitely left NU challenged to reach the production it hoped for in its second season with Danny Langsdorf and coach…

Mike Riley fires coordinator Bruce Read after continued Husker struggles on special teams

Nebraska football will overhaul its special teams units after coach Mike Riley fired coordinator Bruce Read on Sunday. Read had worked with Riley for 16 years at various coaching stops.

After loss to Iowa, Huskers drop but remain ranked among Top 25 teams in both college football polls

Nebraska dropped seven spots in the Coaches Top 25 Poll to 22nd and six spots in the AP Top 25 Poll to 23rd.

Barfknecht's Big Ten rankings, Nov. 28

World-Herald staff writer Lee Barfknecht ranks the Big Ten football teams, as published in The World-Herald on Nov. 28.

Barfknecht: Hawkeyes' new life began with an 'L' to Huskers

Since 2014, the Hawkeyes have won 20 of 26 games, and played in a Big Ten title game and a Rose Bowl with another bowl soon to be determined. None of that would have happened without some indirect help from…

McKewon: Iowa debacle could make Husker coach Mike Riley an agent of change

Mike Riley advanced the story Sunday. The Nebraska coach admitted that this 9-3 season had its major warts, starting with shoddy special teams. Riley fired a career-long loyalist, Bruce Read, to prove it. His urgency underlines the alarming nature of…

All the recruits: How the Huskers' 2017 commits fared in high school games this week (Nov. 26)

A player-by-player look at how all 15 of Nebraska's 2017 recruits performed, individually and as a team, during games played during the weekend of Nebraska's Nov. 25 game with Iowa.

Husker notes: Weathering the wind wasn’t too hard for Nebraska kicker Drew Brown

When there are strong winds like those at Kinnick Stadium on Friday, strange things can happen to the ball when it’s thrown or kicked.

Chatelain: Black Friday loss to Iowa leaves stain on Huskers' turnaround season

Turns out, 62-3 wasn’t even the worst day of Nebraska’s season. When Husker fans think back on 2016, the day they’ll regret most is Black Friday at Kinnick Stadium. It was worse because the opponent wasn’t a top-five team. Worse…

Shatel: Fall back to old habits hints Nebraska's uphill climb continues

Iowa wants this game more than Nebraska, and the Hawkeyes had their way with a Husker outfit that looked and played like it had no interest in being here.Unacceptable? Yes.

Shatel: Life in lunch-pail Big Ten requires a reality check for Husker football

It’s time for Nebraska football to move on, embrace its future. Embrace life in the Big Ten.

Husker notes: Tommy Armstrong, Stanley Morgan get heated; NU looking at the bright side

In the first quarter, NU quarterback Tommy Armstrong engaged in a heated disagreement with receiver Stanley Morgan after a third-down incompletion.

Quarter by quarter: Iowa 40, Nebraska 10

World-Herald staff writer Sam McKewon recaps the key plays in each quarter of Nebraska's loss to Iowa.

Barfknecht: In pivotal month, Huskers, Hawkeyes went diverging directions

Iowa has saved a football season that was going bad. Nebraska has soured one going good. What other conclusion could be drawn from the Hawkeyes’ 40-10 thrashing Friday of the No. 17 Huskers, especially amid signs of NU’s bone-headed play…

Nebraska's special teams a mix of bad and good

Another mixed bag of results on special teams Friday put Nebraska in some precarious positions in its 40-10 loss to Iowa.

Iowa defense adds to misery for banged-up Tommy Armstrong

Tommy Armstrong returned to the starting lineup but completed just 13 of 35 passes in the 40-10 loss to Iowa.

Yards-per-play metric tells tale of Huskers' woeful offensive performance

One good way to measure an offense’s explosiveness is to examine yards per play. More than seven yards per play is excellent. Fewer than four yards per play is the opposite. Since joining the Big Ten, NU has only been…

Nebraska-Iowa: Tracking the offense, defense

World-Herald correspondent Steve Beideck takes a look at Nebraska's effort on both sides of the ball during the Huskers' 40-10 loss to Iowa on Friday.

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

Five things we learned and five things we still don’t know about the Huskers coming out of Friday's loss to Iowa.