Game Day: Nebraska vs. Illinois

Switching is seldom old hat

Nebraska's Mike Riley and Illinois' Lovie Smith have each been in the NFL and college, where daily coaching and mentoring of student-athletes differ from dealing with professional players.

READ MORE »

2-Minute Drill by Sam McKewon

Nebraska rush offense vs. Illinois rush defense

Nebraska's coaches openly worry about the “scary” Illinois defensive line, and last season, when Husker offensive coaches did that, it usually meant NU would deviate from the run game if it wasn't working early. But coach Mike Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf have shown greater commitment to the run this season, and even though the NU offensive line lacks depth — backup guards Sam Hahn and Corey Whitaker are both starting — it should have a size advantage over Illinois' front seven. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong has been dangerous with his legs, and this might be a game where the Huskers' jet sweep comes into play.

Nebraska pass offense vs. Illinois pass defense

Illinois will use man-to-man coverage on early downs and some of coach Lovie Smith's Cover 2 defense on third downs. Thus far, it hasn't worked. The Illini are giving up 8.1 yards per attempt and allowing opponents to complete 67.1 percent of their passes. Those both rank last in the Big Ten. Armstrong has completed only 55.4 percent of his passes, but he's hitting a lot of chunk plays, too, with nine plays over 30 yards.

Illinois rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

Illinois played about as rotten a football game as possible against Western Michigan with just 15 carries for three yards. Its running game — featuring Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Kendrick Foster — is better than that and should top 100 yards against the Huskers. But quarterback Wes Lunt isn't mobile in the least, so the threat of the zone read isn't there. Nebraska's front seven should be able to handle Illinois.

Illinois pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

Lunt tends to complete a high percentage of passes for very few yards. That's been the case again this season. The Illini have one NFL caliber wideout — Malik Turner — and he gets the ball a lot (15 catches, 223 yards and 3 touchdowns in three games). Nebraska should have a good answer for Turner in junior corner Chris Jones. Illinois has given up eight sacks in three games. Nebraska's defense had four sacks in its last game.

Special teams

Nebraska's special teams was excellent against Oregon, and then so-so again at Northwestern. Consistency has been an issue for the Huskers thus far, but kicker Drew Brown — both on field goals and on kickoffs — has been excellent. NU could stand to get better at punt and kickoff return. Illinois is giving up 26 yards per return on kickoffs.

Intangibles

The Huskers have plenty of reasons to want to beat Illinois, not the least of which is a 14-13 loss to the Illini last season. They'll have the home crowd, a better turnover margin, a better quarterback and a better roster. The only thing working against Nebraska is that it's been a long two months — the death of of a teammate, the arrest of an assistant coach, a weeklong discussion about player protests — and a bye week looms. Nebraska sorely wants to reach that finish line at 5-0.

Key matchup: NU's O-line and TEs vs. Illinois' front seven

If Nebraska can run the ball against the Illini, it's game over. Illinois lacks the firepower to outscore the Huskers, so it needs to shut down NU's running game, and it won't have the benefit of rainy, cold weather like it did in Champaign last season. It's a tall order for the Illinois coaching staff, but Smith is the coach, and he does know defense.

Our take

Can the Huskers keep their eyes on the prize? It was another long week inside the NU program — thought-provoking as it may have been — and this is a team, so long as it can take care of business against the Illini, that could use a bye week to get healthy and process the last two months of their lives. Illinois may be the worst team in the Big Ten. Nebraska may not play its A game, but it won't need its A game to win.

Our prediction: Nebraska 30, Illinois 14

Live updates

Videos

Extras

Game notes

Check out a PDF of the game notes for the Nebraska-Illinois matchup provided by the Husker Athletic Department. Click here »

Husker History

Find information on every win, loss and tie in Husker history. With historical World-Herald front pages, photos, stories, key stats and more, our ever-growing Husker History Database is your new home for archiving one of the nation's most tradition-rich programs. 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. Plus, look back at historical moments in Nebraska football by following @HuskerHistory on Twitter.

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

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 Red Today coverage

TBL: Facing elite competition prepares 'Bookie' Radley-Hiles for Nebraska

When Nebraska commit Brendan Radley-Hiles steps to the line against an elite receiver, that's when he unleashes the "Bookie." That's the nickname he's had nearly his entire life, but it's also become his persona — the embodiment of his confidence.

McKewon: Buckeyes, Badgers, Nittany Lions headline list of Big Ten's best players

The World-Herald’s annual list of best Big Ten players is stacked heavily toward a trio of teams: Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin. Not surprisingly, it’s those teams that should start inside the top 10 when the coaches and media…

Car crash gives Council Bluffs Lewis Central QB Max Duggan, family whiplash at start of recruiting trip to SEC schools

Four-star quarterback prospect Max Duggan of Council Bluffs Lewis Central made plans this week to visit Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. On Thursday on Interstate 75 near Atlanta, the rental SUV the family was riding in was rear-ended, causing whiplash to…

TBL: Howard Griffith must evaluate Nebraska as BTN analyst and father of top prospect

When Howard Griffith is breaking down Nebraska, he's doing it for two reasons. First, he's an analyst for BTN, so it's his job to see how the Huskers stack up with the rest of the Big Ten. But he's also…

Best of TBL, July 20: Howard Griffith, Jean Stothert, Robin Washut, Kevin Coffey and others

Catch up on everything you might have missed during Thursday's episode of "The Bottom Line."

McKewon: Nebraska's 20 best players of the Big Ten era

Who are the best 20 Huskers in the Big Ten era? With six seasons of data and top performances through which to sort, here’s the list – for now.

Recruiting: Four-star corner Houston Griffith still eyeing Nebraska, will make midseason decision

Houston Griffith has heard the criticism since he first started drawing recruiting interest as an eighth-grader in Chicago.

McKewon: Preseason guides not high on Huskers, provide lots of fiery fodder for fans

I’ve been reviewing preseason magazines in July for several years. Rarely have they collectively been this bearish on a Nebraska football season. It’s a contrast to the natural tendency of local media — myself included — to focus on the…

Recruiting: 'Bookie' Radley-Hiles nearing five-star status after big move in Scout's updated rankings

Brendan Radley-Hiles is approaching five-star status after the latest update to Scout’s recruiting rankings. The Nebraska commit moved up 27 spots to No. 22 nationally and is the nation’s No. 4 cornerback.

Recruiting: Loss of Elijah Blades, Deiontae Watts changes perception of 2017 class, but story is far from finished

Nebraska’s 2017 recruiting class looks different now than it did five months ago. How might the class rankings change if the three players that won't be with Nebraska this fall weren’t included?

Pick Six Podcast: Elijah Blades, Nebraska football expectations, Evan's conversation with Shawn Eichorst

World-Herald staff writers Sam McKewon and Evan Bland tackle top local topics and the hottest headlines from across the country in the July 19 edition of "The Pick Six Podcast."

Former NU star Dave Rimington returns to Omaha for camp, but he gets joy from helping off the field

As Nebraska football re-emerged to prominence at the start of the 1980s after a pair of national championships a decade earlier, Dave Rimington laid the foundation for an enterprise that came to be known as “The Pipeline.”

Prized corner signee Elijah Blades will not join Huskers, to attend Arizona Western instead

Nebraska signee and four-star cornerback Elijah Blades will not be joining the football team this fall — and likely not ever. Now the Huskers’ focus turns to the six scholarship corners it already has while continuing to pursue multiple recruits…

Recruiting: NU wideout commit Joshua Moore 'still open' to other suitors

The four-star wide receiver will continue to weigh options into the fall season.

With Chris Jones’ injury, Husker cornerbacks Eric Lee, Lamar Jackson will get their turn to step up

For at least half the season — and perhaps all of it — the Huskers will be without a key piece of their defense after Jones, their top cornerback and a legitimate All-Big Ten candidate, tore the meniscus in his…

2017 defensive line signee Deiontae Watts not enrolling at Nebraska

Plano (Texas) East and 2017 signee Deiontae Watts will not be playing football at Nebraska, his mother, Sandra, told The World-Herald on Sunday night.

Baseball team’s title highlights year in Husker athletics, but whole department has room to improve

Perhaps the best moment for Nebraska’s athletic department in 2016-17 happened more than 1,000 miles east of campus on Penn State’s baseball field May 20. With a Big Ten regular-season crown on the line, the Huskers blasted their struggling counterparts…

Top Husker defensive back Chris Jones out 4-6 months after knee surgery

Nebraska coach Mike Riley announced Saturday that top Husker cornerback Chris Jones had knee surgery to repair his left meniscus.

Husker commit Brendan 'Bookie' Radley-Hiles named defensive back MVP of The Opening Finals

Brendan "Bookie" Radley-Hiles proved at The Opening Finals earlier this month why he's the Huskers' highest ranked commit. Radley-Hiles earned near-unanimous praise from analysts in attendance, and he added another honor to his list Wednesday.

NU's Shawn Eichorst says Football Competition Committee doing a 'deep dive' on 14-week seasons, redshirt rules and more

Changes could be coming to college football, and Nebraska's athletic director is part of a group of NCAA representatives tasked with making sure any tweaks are the result of exhaustive and informed study.

Nebraska sending Chris Jones, Tanner Lee and Chris Weber to Big Ten media days in Chicago

Cornerback Chris Jones, quarterback Tanner Lee and linebacker Chris Weber will represent Nebraska at Big Ten media days later this month.

Six Husker football commits appear in latest 247Sports top player rankings

All six of Nebraska's 2018 four-star football commits found themselves in the top 250 of 247Sports' best recruits, including three in the top 100.

Bob Elliott, Husker defensive analyst and former safeties coach, dies at 64

Bob Elliott, a veteran college football coach hired by Nebraska in February, has died. Elliott coached 38 years with stops at nine schools, including Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas State and Notre Dame.

Ex-Husker linebacker, West Point-Beemer assistant Adam Skoda dies at 42

Former Husker linebacker Adam Skoda died Saturday after battling neuroendocrine cancer. He was 42.

Ex-Husker Niles Paul battles injuries, is willing to play multiple positions on route back in NFL

Niles Paul, who turns 28 in August, enters his seventh NFL season with something to prove. Two injuries have sidelined him all but eight games since his breakout season of 2014. Can he stay healthy and revive his career?

McKewon: J.T. Barrett, Trace McSorley headline experienced crop of opposing QBs facing Huskers

While fans eagerly await the next starting quarterback — Tanner Lee — to take a snap at Nebraska, you might want to chew on this: The Huskers will likely face equally experienced — if not always equally good — signal-…

Former players of Husker assistant Scott Booker say he goes all-in with football, family and relationships

Now retired after playing eight NFL seasons, Usama Young laughs at the memory of himself as an upperclassman cornerback at Kent State in 2005 and 2006. His defensive backs coach regularly broke down game film by explaining what every participant…

Recruiting: Husker commit 'Bookie' Radley-Hiles shines at The Opening Finals

The Opening Finals brought together many of the nation's top college football recruits, and Nebraska commit Brendan "Bookie" Radley-Hiles stood out with his performance and personality.

Big Ten recruiting rankings and projections, July 2

Not surprisingly, Ohio State is on top. Not surprisingly, the Big Ten East dominates the top five. But Nebraska is holding strong.

McKewon: Bob Diaco’s all-in approach taking hold as Huskers continue learning his defense

Bob Diaco, who hadn’t chatted with any reporters in more than two months, was gracious to give an hour of his time. We talked about a variety of topics, including and especially his love for food, but he doesn’t always…