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.

READ MORE »

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.

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

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. Omaha.com/BRTapp and Omaha.com/android

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

All of Nebraska's history vs. Purdue football is recent. Except one 1958 game

Nebraska and Purdue faced off as conference opponents for the first time in 2013, which ignited what will be at least 13 consecutive seasons with one another on the schedule. But 2013 wasn't the first overall matchup. Nope, that came…

Monday rewind: Nebraska football needs a spark — and maybe a little time 'away from each other'

We wrote this story out of Minnesota in 2013 and 2017, too. The names change. The clichés, too, a little bit. And even if it’s supposed to be different under Scott Frost — even if, one day, it is —…

Stopping the run is crucial in the Big Ten West, and Husker football ranks as the worst

Time and again, opposing coaches see Nebraska step off the bus and wonder if they can run the ball on them. And then they do.

'Keep it going or pack it up': Scott Frost delivers frank message to Huskers after Minnesota loss

Scott Frost had one hand in his pocket, and the other one was carrying a playsheet. And nothing was fine for the Nebraska football coach.

Shatel: Mugging in Minnesota shows Scott Frost's Huskers still lacking muscle, mindset

P.J. Fleck just shoved his oar right down Nebraska’s throat. People like to laugh at Fleck, the Minnesota football coach, saying he’s a huckster and a fake. Well, there was nothing fake about what Fleck’s Gophers did to Nebraska on…

Huskers 'knocked out of position' as physical Gophers pound Nebraska with ground game

The blank faces said it all. By the time Nebraska defenders trudged off the cold and misty field at TCF Bank Stadium, they had already processed much of the carnage. A 20-point third quarter that blew the doors off a…

Losing numbers: The stats and figures that defined Nebraska's loss to Minnesota

A closer look at the defining stats and figures from the Huskers' loss to Minnesota on Saturday.

Even with soft spots disguised as strengths, Minnesota finds room in Husker football's front seven

Minnesota carved up Nebraska’s defense with its run game Saturday night because it spotted soft spots disguised as strengths.

Nebraska-Minnesota: Breaking down the Huskers' performance on offense and defense

World-Herald staff writer Chris Heady takes a look at Nebraska's effort on both sides of the ball during the Huskers' loss to Minnesota.

Nebraska-Minnesota: Three things we learned, three things we still don't know

Three things we learned and three things we still don’t know about the Huskers coming out of Saturday's loss to Minnesota.

Husker pregame: Adrian Martinez not dressed for warmups; Noah Vedral poised for first start

Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez is not suited up for the game an hour ahead of kickoff and will not play against Minnesota.

$250,000-a-year consulting deal for former NU President Hank Bounds draws both concerns, praise

Some regents say it’s a win for Nebraska to bring Hank Bounds back because he is a good fundraiser who knows and cares about the projects involved. Some observers say they are perplexed by the amount he will receive, and…

They both have young offenses, but Minnesota can show Nebraska how fast they grow up

The Huskers think a strong second half is coming. Their counterparts in Minneapolis have already experienced it.

Shatel: What's up with Adrian Martinez? Is Noah Vedral ready? Let's ask Mario Verduzco

Noah Vedral knows the offense back and forward. We haven’t seen a lot of his game. He got in one game last year. And then last week. That’s the beauty of it, too. There isn’t a lot of film of…

Fremont senior offensive lineman Keegan Menning will walk on at Nebraska

Fremont senior Keegan Menning added his name to the list of walk-ons in Nebraska’s 2020 class on Thursday night.

Huskers discuss redshirt rule weekly, 'but things change.' Luke McCaffrey is the latest example

“It’s an awesome rule,” said Luke McCaffrey, who’s drawn raves from coaches and teammates while he redshirts and works to push Adrian Martinez for the starting role next season. “I think it’s fantastic.”

Mohamed Barry, Damian Jackson contenders for national awards

Mohamed Barry was named a quarterfinalist for the 2019 Lott Trophy, which recognizes a player who made the biggest impact on his team both on and off the field.

Huskers to practice outside Friday in preparation for 'football weather' in Minnesota

If it’s Christmas weather — 32 degrees — for Nebraska’s Saturday night game at Minnesota, well, Scott Frost can’t think anything much better.

Husker practice report, Oct. 10: Scott Frost not revealing playing status of injured players

While Nebraska's travel roster is rounding into form, the status of players at multiple key positions remains unclear.

106-year-old fan attends her first Husker game, meets Nebraska coach Scott Frost

"I just thought that I was on a different planet almost," she told The World-Herald. "It was a special place to be."

Husker opponent preview: Everything you need to know about the Minnesota Gophers

“Defensively, they’re a lot more sound than what we saw last year and more athletic," Scott Frost said. "They’ve definitely improved. You can tell it’s year three of his tenure up there. They’re starting to look like the team he…

Cold weather not changing Huskers' plan. Minnesota is pouring ice water on players

Weather, smeather. That was more or less the reaction from Nebraska offensive coaches Tuesday when probed about how they might adjust preparations for Saturday night's game at Minnesota that calls for temperatures in the mid-30s and a good chance of…

27 times Husker games were decided by a last-minute score since 2000

They've given you lifelong memories, permanent heartache, everlasting glee and eternal suffering.

Husker practice report, Oct. 9: Adrian Martinez, JD Spielman both in pads

Encouraging news this morning from Husker football practice. Adrian Martinez (knee) and JD Spielman (undisclosed) were both in pads for practice Wednesday.

Shatel: Noah Vedral's star-crossed turn involves Matt Turman's sister, Kansas State ... and fate

Earlier this week, I called Matt Turman to talk about his nephew, Noah Vedral, waiting and getting that big moment. But as we talked, it hit me that there's a bigger story. The story about the small, small world of…

Minnesota once told the Huskers they were 'no good.' Nebraska responded with 84 points

Nebraska has dominated Minnesota since 1963, claiming 19 of 22 games. But the Gophers have the all-time edge.

Bill Moos preaches patience, need for four-year development as Husker football makes 'evolution'

For Nebraska’s program to be full blast again, the A.D. says it will take two more recruiting classes and two more years of developing a walk-on program.

McKewon: Ronald Delancy brings more flavor from Miami, where they play defense with an edge

Nebraska received a commitment Tuesday from Miami Northwestern defensive back Ronald Delancy. Three takes on the decision of the 6-foot, 165-pounder.

'Just gotta stay locked in': Husker defensive backs will be tested by trio of Minnesota receivers

Inside linebacker Mohamed Barry doesn’t usually concern himself much with wide receivers. This week, he’s at full attention.

Monday rewind: The Huskers' offense was better than the final score against Northwestern showed

Credit Scott Frost and his staff for squeezing just enough of true freshman Wan’Dale Robinson, Martinez and backup quarterback Noah Vedral to win against a defense that had given up three plays of 30 yards or more heading into the…