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.


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


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




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. and

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

Shatel: Crystal ball sees cracks, but happier number for Huskers — Nine wins

There’s a certain formula to a preseason prediction. You take the result if everything goes right, times the human factor, times injuries and multiply that by the way things have gone in the past.

Husker strength coach Mark Philipp has a heart for building muscle

Not every player is wired the same when it comes to lifting and working out. That is something Mark Philipp understands.

X’s, O’s and fewer Oh-No's: Coordinators see reason for optimism with this season’s Huskers

With coordinators Mark Banker and Danny Langsdorf in their second seasons at Nebraska, the Huskers are reacting better and playing faster.

Livingston: Our machine doesn’t need to work, but Mike Riley’s does

We had the machine built to symbolize the considerable efforts underway at Nebraska to retool the once powerful Big Red Machine.

Game-by-game predictions of the Huskers' 2016 schedule

Could Nebraska reach 10 wins? It’s possible. So is another six-win campaign. That would spell big trouble for Mike Riley and Co.

Mike Riley meets weekly with Shawn Eichorst, says he’s never had more contact with a boss

It makes sense the two have a close relationship. Shawn Eichorst’s success is intertwined, to some degree, with Mike Riley’s success.

Meet the 2016 Nebraska football team

A closer look at every player on Nebraska's football roster for the 2016 season.

In 24/7/365 world of Husker recruiting, machine hums through two-a-days

Nebraska's recruiting strategy — overhauled since Mike Riley’s arrival by director of player personnel Ryan Gunderson — includes a robust staff and tirelessness.

Billy Devaney taps decades of NFL experience to help evaluate talent, tweak Husker operation

When asked to evaluate his first six months at Nebraska and where he has made his biggest mark thus far with the program, Devaney is not patting himself on the back.

Key players: Huskers providing the spark to fire on all cylinders

The Big Red Machine is a mix of returning standouts — including All-Big Ten candidates — along with veterans holding down the fort and youngsters ready to break down the door. Mike Riley counts on all of them to get…

Equipped for anything: Equipment managers there to help Huskers perform at their best

The bag that Nebraska’s football equipment manager carries around with him at every practice and every game has all the essentials. Seriously. All of them.

Mike Riley helped get satellite camps off ground

As long as the rules allow it, satellite camps will have a place in the Huskers’ recruiting philosophy. They just have to pick and choose the right ones.

Shatel: As walls to communication fall, no audience is captive

The game was glorious in the ’70s, ’80s and most of the ’90s. Oh, cheating and paranoia have always been in Saturday’s Game. But the game also had an innocence about it, full of color, wacky characters and storytelling.

The World-Herald preseason Top 25, Heisman favorites

If the prediction of the World-Herald’s football guys bears out, the Big Ten will be shut out of this year’s College Football Playoff, while the SEC West will field two of the four teams.

Assisting assistants, Husker support staff hopes to climb ladder

Some are known as graduate assistants, some as graduate managers. In simpler terms, they’re coaching grunts.

State-of-the-art performance lab helps get the best out of each Husker

The Nebraska Athletic Performance Laboratory is a 20,000-square-foot facility, with weight stations, a track surface, turf space and half a basketball court.

Is prosperity around the corner for Nebraska? National analysts disagree

Nebraska, according to national experts, is hard to figure out.

Analytics crew confident that number-crunching can add up to Nebraska victories

With a season behind them, Tucker Zeleny wants to be an even bigger help to Nebraska coach Mike Riley and his football staff in 2016.

Smile! If you’re at Husker practice, you’re on camera

Tate Guillotte and his video staff have their cameras rolling — a total of eight, regularly, during preseason practices — and the tape can be waiting for coach Mike Riley and his assistants by the time they get back from…

At Nebraska, talk about grades is more than academic

Nebraska has produced 107 Academic All-Americans in football and 325 from all sports, both best in the nation.

Huskers learning to fuel up the right way

Lindsey Remmers also knows how important it is to engrain principles about proper nutrition. That way players have a foundation when they leave NU.

Social media doing a lot of talking for Nebraska

Nebraska’s social media team concocts promotional campaigns, purposely crafting a message that sells the football program’s strengths to fans and recruits.

Mixed view from the stands: Gauging confidence of Husker fans entering Year 2 under Mike Riley

They’re known nationally as college football’s most loyal fans. But aside from filling Memorial Stadium on Saturdays, what’s their role in the Big Red Machine?

Since Nebraska began earmarking donations for benefit of athletes, giving has increased

The change is part of Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst’s philosophy of making donations less “transactional’’ and more for the common good.

Huskers giving back while getting a degree, training for a job

Stop any Nebraska football player and ask about his aspirations, and a few might talk about the NFL while most will mention the importance of getting a degree.

Dickson: To celebrity supporters, Big Red still has cred

Picture a preseason ranking of Big Ten football teams, only instead of player personnel it’s based on how many stars of, say, “Modern Family” cheer for a team.

The son of a coach, Huskers snag tight end Reese Leitao out of Oklahoma

The newest verbal commit to Nebraska's 2017 recruiting class didn't let many people know what he was thinking. Even his high school coach.

Recruiting: Three quick takes on Reese Leitao's commitment

Nebraska landed its 14th commitment of the 2017 recruiting in Jenks (Okla.) High School tight end Reese Leitao. Here's quick three hits on the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder.

After year on practice squad, Ex-Husker Zaire Anderson looks to take next step with Broncos

An NFL practice squad can be a tough place to spend a season, and the degree of difficulty can multiply when Peyton Manning, C.J. Anderson and Demaryius Thomas are on the other side of the line.

Husker Notes: Tre Bryant among four freshmen to play, others on 'alert' list

On Saturday, Mike Riley whittled down the “for sure” list to four names: I-back Tre Bryant, cornerback Lamar Jackson, safety JoJo Domann and punter Caleb Lightbourn.