Game Day: Nebraska vs. Illinois

Taking charge

Nebraska's veterans know it’s time to hit the reset button in time for physical Big Ten play. “It’s a grind," defensive tackle Vincent Valentine said. "And you have to take it game by game, you have to make sure you do your rest and make sure you recover, and make sure your body is right for the whole season.”


2-Minute Drill by Sam McKewon

Nebraska rush offense vs. Illinois rush defense

Nebraska will be the best rushing team — by some margin — that Illinois has faced this year, and the Illini don't appear to have the personnel to completely match up on an every-down basis. Husker I-back Ameer Abdullah has 625 yards on 6.79 yards per carry. Illinois ranks 83rd nationally in rushing yards per game allowed, but it has faced quite a few rush attempts, too. It's hard to see Huskers not winning this category.

Nebraska pass offense vs. Illinois pass defense

The Huskers' passing game hasn't been consistent — quarterback Tommy Armstrong has completed just 55.3 percent of his passes — but it is explosive. Nebraska has eight passing plays that have gone for at least 30 yards. Illinois hasn't been that leaky, but its secondary has been vulnerable to the short-to-medium throws. If Illinois stacks the box, NU has already shown it will throw the ball deep.

Illinois rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

Nebraska's defense is structurally vulnerable to a consistent power running game, but few offenses are willing to commit to it. Given Illinois ran for 195 yards against NU last year, chances are offensive coordinator Bill Cubit will commit. Backs Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young are a good lightning-and-thunder punch. NU's front four has been stout, but issues linger at linebacker, where David Santos is out for Saturday's game and Josh Banderas is struggling.

Illinois pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

Quarterback Wes Lunt has a strong arm and ample trust in that arm. He also has decent — not great, but decent — wideouts, including two Iowa Western products, Geronimo Allison and Martize Barr. While the Huskers' secondary took a few lumps against Miami, it's still allowing just a 51.6-percent completion rate. And don't forget: Nebraska got two interceptions against Miami. The more a team throws the ball, the more comfortable Nebraska is.

Special teams

Other than a spotty kickoff return unit, this is the best top-to-bottom special teams start Nebraska has enjoyed since 2011. Sam Foltz is booming punts and De'Mornay Pierson-El is a legit threat to return them for big yards. NU's kickoff coverage was more than solid against Miami even without Mauro Bondi. Illinois has one of the Big Ten best returners (so far) in V'Angelo Bentley, but the Illini have missed 2 of 4 field goal attempts.


It's Homecoming, a late-night start, and alternate-uniform night for Nebraska. Illinois has won just one Big Ten game under Tim Beckman. Since 2012, Illinois has played two road games against ranked teams, getting outscored 97-22.

Key matchup: Coaches: Bill Cubit vs. Bo Pelini/John Papuchis

Western Kentucky and Texas State dropped 34 and 35 points on Illinois, respectively. Illinois is going to give up some points. Nebraska is only in trouble if it can't stop Illinois more than a handful of times. If Cubit calls the game of his life, and NU's defense isn't up the challenge, things could get interesting around midnight.

Our take

Illinois should put some points on the board, but Nebraska is the bigger and frankly faster football team between the two. That, coupled with home-field advantage and Illinois' continued rebuilding project, should favor the Huskers.

Our prediction: Nebraska 45, Illinois 24

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