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

Husker Talk Live: Replay

Replay Tuesday's "Husker Talk Live" chat with staff writer Sam McKewon to track a discussion of all the latest Husker headlines.

Live Blog Husker Talk Live: Noon

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His own award.

The first annual Tom ...

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Lunch with Tom: Replay

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“Could we talk about Iowa, please?” Nebraska’s coach said early in Monday’s press conference, thwarting ...

Abdullah says good will come from injury

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Seeing that pursuit get derailed, though, has been only a ...

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Notes: Pelini uncertain whether Bell will play against Hawkeyes

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Senior Kenny Bell, the program’s career catches leader, suffered an apparent concussion on ...

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Huskers drop out of both college football polls

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Last week the Huskers sat at No. 21 ...

Barfknecht's Big Ten rankings, Nov. 24

World-Herald staff writer Lee Barfknecht ranks the Big Ten football teams as published in The World-Herald on Nov. 24.

* * *

1. Ohio State (10-1, 7-0)

Last week: beat Indiana 42-27. This ...

Husker QB Armstrong makes positive strides

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Coach Bo Pelini pulled him aside. Offensive ...

McKewon: NU will prove Griese right 
if it can’t stop power game

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Barfknecht: Is Husker sellout streak the next cornerstone to tumble?

The best news about Nebraska football after the weekend is there are no more home games.

Imagine if the Huskers hosted Penn State this weekend, and the tired Nittany Lions ...

Quarter by quarter: Minnesota 28, Nebraska 24

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First quarter

Mitch Leidner: Minnesota starts the game with ...

Nebraska-Minnesota: 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-Minnesota football game.

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FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED

1. Nebraska’s inability to deliver ...

‘No loss is easy to take, especially in this state’

LINCOLN — Inside Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon, fans dressed in maroon and gold were mingling about, taking pictures and celebrating a big road win. Life was good.

Outside, many of ...

Nebraska-Minnesota: Tracking the Husker offense, defense

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TRACKING THE HUSKER OFFENSE

The ...

Video: Husker postgame press conference

Replay video from the the Nebraska-Minnesota postgame press conference with coach Bo Pelini and players Tommy Armstrong and Nate Gerry.

Gophers rally past Huskers; Pelini says NU 'didn't deserve to win'

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Nebraska had its chances. Minnesota made the plays. The Gophers won 28-24 ...

Husker Talk Live: Postgame chat replay

Replay Saturday's postgame edition of the "Husker Talk Live" chat with staff writer Jon Nyatawa to track the reaction to the Nebraska-Minnesota game.

Live Blog Husker Talk Live: Game ...

Notes: Pelini says deep pass on second-and-1 a 'bad call'

LINCOLN — Midway through the fourth quarter, with Nebraska leading 24-21 and humming along with its ground game, NU offensive coordinator Tim Beck dialed up a deep pass on second-and-1 at ...

‘Leaky yards’ lead to long drives for Gophers

LINCOLN — Leaky yardage.

Those pesky yards gained by Minnesota after a missed tackle or a blown or poorly executed assignment were cited by Nebraska coach Bo Pelini and Husker defenders ...

From the sidelines: Husker fans wake up to see seniors off

LINCOLN — A week after a disheartening loss at Wisconsin, the energy and enthusiasm inside Memorial Stadium were muted before Saturday’s game.

Plenty of seats in the student section and ...

Gophers go from afterthought to thinking of a title

LINCOLN — Donnell Kirkwood said the magnitude of what Minnesota had just done and what was ahead took little or no time to sink in Saturday.

The Golden Gophers didn’t ...

NU escapes NC State behind Green’s major

Competing in two locations in North Carolina on Saturday, the Nebraska wrestling team came away with a sweep of a pair of duals.

The win over Duke was a blowout ...

Chatelain: Football gods now smiling elsewhere

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Shatel: Writing's on the wall for Husker coach Bo Pelini

LINCOLN — This is the part where this computer is supposed to spit out fire and brimstone.

But there’s really nothing left to say.

This was the part where you ...

Shatel: You — yes, you, Husker fans — must bounce back, too

Hey, good morning. Yes, you with the Nebraska football tickets.

You getting up at 7 a.m. to load up the car? Got the heavy coat, the gloves, the hat ...

Barfknecht: Two weeks remain, and the West is still wild

After all the things written about the Big Ten’s ability to screw up scheduling, regardless of sport, you’ve got to like that it lucked out on these final ...