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

Printable rosters

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Big Red Today coverage

Husker Talk Live: Replay

Replay Tuesday's "Husker Talk Live” chat with World-Herald staff writer Jon Nyatawa to get all of your Husker questions answered.

Live Blog Husker Talk Live: Noon

Shatel: Don’t count out Ameer Abdullah for a run at Mike Rozier's mark

Don’t look now, but it’s trivia time again. Where and when was the last time Nebraska beat a top 10 team on the road? Answer below. Winner gets ...

Video: Bo Pelini talks about Michigan State

Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini and several Huskers spoke to the media on Monday as the team prepares to face Michigan State in East Lansing. 

Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook ...

Lunch with Tom: Replay

Hungry for some sports chat? Replay the "Lunch with Tom'' with World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel in which he discusses Nebraska’s win over Illinois and more.

Live Blog Lunch with ...

Freshman Kieron Williams sees more studying, snaps

LINCOLN — There already had been some long hours and late nights, but Kieron Williams wanted to get it right last week.

So the Nebraska freshman safety was still going over ...

Notes: Santos feeling better, but status for Spartans remains in question

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said he and his staff will use the week of practice to evaluate the status of linebacker David Santos, who missed Saturday’s win over Illinois ...

Ameer Abdullah wins Big Ten honor again

For the third time in five weeks, Nebraska I-back Ameer Abdullah earned a Big Ten weekly honor, as the senior was chosen as the Big Ten offensive player of the ...

Q&A with Husker receiver Jordan Westerkamp

One of the spotlights on Saturday night will be on the Nebraska receivers going against the Michigan State defensive backs. Among them is Westerkamp, the sophomore who has caught at ...

Nyatawa: Ameer Abdullah’s running style conducive to durability

LINCOLN — On his 21st carry Saturday night, Ameer Abdullah lowered his shoulder and chugged his way forward to gain a couple of extra yards, just as he’d capped off ...

Huskers 'hungry' to prove they can hang with Spartans

LINCOLN — Tommy Armstrong has lost one game as Nebraska’s starting quarterback. He’s watching tape of that 41-28 loss to Michigan State this week.

He’ll see the five ...

Huskers moving on up in Coaches, AP Top 25 polls

The Huskers continue this week to move up the ranks in both the AP Top 25 and the Coaches Polls following a 45-14 pounding of the Illini Saturday.

Last week ...

New look on ‘D’ made difference for Nebraska

LINCOLN — It was obvious to safety Nate Gerry that Illinois’ quarterback wasn’t completely sure how to attack a new personnel package that Nebraska unveiled for Saturday night’s matchup ...

Nebraska lays groundwork with running attack

LINCOLN — Some of the offensive numbers were staggering by the time Nebraska had taken its final snap Saturday night.

The NU offense was on the field for a season-high 39 ...

Nebraska gets commitments from two 2016 offensive linemen

They won't be in a Nebraska uniform for two years, but John Raridon and Bryan Brokop had to make Husker offensive line coach John Garrison very pleased late Saturday ...

Backup quarterback first of many problems for Illini

LINCOLN — One backup quarterback. Two big plays. Three simple words. And four wheels that fell off.

That about summed up the latest trip to Lincoln for Illinois, a 45-14 loss ...

Barfknecht's Big Ten Rankings, Sept. 29

World-Herald staff writer Lee Barfknecht ranks the Big Ten conference football teams as published in The World-Herald on Sept. 29.

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1. Michigan State (3-1, 0-0)

Last week: beat Wyoming 56-14 ...

Barfknecht: If Nebraska is on its game, look for a shootout with MSU

EAST LANSING, Mich. — All joking aside about Big Ten football, Michigan State is the most complete league team I’ve seen one-third of the way through the season.

But as ...

McKewon: Huskers match up well with Michigan State

LINCOLN — Hello, darlin’.

Michigan State, that is. The green-eyed girl of the northern league, the one Big Ten team that escapes the “Big Ten” label, the one that national analysts ...

Video: Nebraska postgame press conference

Watch Nebraska's postgame press conference live as Bo Pelini and select Husker players address the media.

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Video: Bo Pelini postgame

Video: Tommy Armstrong postgame

Video: Nate Gerry postgame

Video ...

Husker Talk Live: Game Day

Get live analysis, photos, video and more during the Huskers’ showdown with Illinois. Want to chime in? Use the #NEBvsILL hashtag on Twitter.

Live Blog Husker Talk Live: Game Day

Quarter by quarter: Nebraska 45, Illinois 14

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

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First quarter

Ameer Abdullah: Nebraska’s top offensive weapon ...

Tracking the Husker offense, defense

World-Herald staff writer Rich Kaipust takes a look at Nebraska's effort on both sides of the ball during the Huskers' 45-14 win over Illinois.

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TRACKING THE OFFENSE

The game ...

Barfknecht: Great divide in the Great Lakes

EAST LANSING and ANN ARBOR, Mich. — My map tells me the football programs at Michigan State and Michigan are 60 miles apart.

My eyes tell me the current gap is ...

From the sidelines: Fans get kick out of Nebraska’s alternate kicks

LINCOLN — All that glittered was gold.

OK, maybe a little silver, too.

Nebraska’s alternate uniforms Saturday were definitely something to look at. But the all red had been done ...

Nebraska-Illinois: 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-Illinois football game.

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Five things we learned

1. Ameer Abdullah’s a legitimate ...

Notes: To Gerry, Gregory’s big hit looks as good on video as it did in person

LINCOLN — Safety Nate Gerry didn’t get to see a replay of the big hit junior Randy Gregory had on his second-quarter interception return until they were in the locker ...

Shatel: There’s no slowing 
this hurry-up drive into the future, and that’s OK

LINCOLN — Where have you gone, Keith Jackson?

It’s near midnight, Lincoln time, and Nebraska and Illinois are still playing football. On purpose.

Meanwhile, it’s hard to know who ...

Chatelain: Huskers getting to 6-0 will depend on No. 4

LINCOLN — 190 to nothin’.

This is not Ameer Abdullah’s ratio of broken tackles to fumbles. This is not the ratio of Bo Pelini’s sideline scowls to smiles.

No ...

Going for the green: Huskers overpowering but far from perfect as focus shifts to Spartans

LINCOLN — No letdown. A little letting up. But a rout for the record books.

In alternate, all-red duds and a two-tone helmet more befitting of space suits, Nebraska shook off ...

Big Red Breakfast: Coach K says Huskers' front four is on the rise

The body frames, playing style and individual strengths of the four starters on Nebraska’s talented defensive line are about as different as it gets. And their position coach has ...