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

Sam McKewon's Big Ten picks: A big test for Michigan and Wisconsin

Just when you think Wisconsin has to rebuild, they’re right back in the center of the ring, fighting off all comers.

Shatel: We may have learned the hard way, but it's time to respect Big Ten football

After a lifetime of mocking this league and eight years of witnessing it, maybe a change of attitude is in order.

Huskers have had turbulent travels during historic road losing streak. Are calmer skies ahead?

The Huskers have dropped eight straight on the road and are 0 for 6 under Scott Frost. A defeat Saturday would mark the longest road losing streak in program history.

Video: Sam McKewon's three keys to a Husker victory against Illinois

World-Herald staff writer Sam McKewon is an expert when it comes to breaking down the Huskers, and each week he'll share what he believes are the keys to victory against their next opponent.

Carriker Chronicles: Can a young offensive line restore the Nebraska pipeline?

On Friday's episode, Adam Carriker talks about one of the major questions facing the Huskers: how much and how soon will Nebraska's offensive line improve?

McKewon: New Husker commit Henry Gray plays defensive back with skill beyond his years

Nebraska received a commitment Thursday from Miami (Fla.) Central defensive back Henry Gray. Three takes on the decision of the 6-foot, 175-pounder.

Kanawai Noa isn't like Nebraska's other receivers. But that's exactly what the Huskers need

“A lot of receivers are kind of, flamboyant, flashy,” offensive coordinator Troy Walters said. Not Kanawai Noa.

Official visit and presence of Husker assistant Travis Fisher sell four-star Henry Gray on Nebraska

Henry Gray, a four-star prospect from Florida who visited Nebraska last weekend, announced his commitment to the Huskers on Thursday.

Husker coach Scott Frost sees room for growth across the board after three games

In about five minutes, Greg Sharpe and Scott Frost hit nearly every position group on the roster during Sports Nightly. Just about every answer was the same from the head coach.

Husker practice report, Sept. 19: Nebraska's defense has been on the field a lot. That's good and bad

Nebraska's total defensive snaps seen (238) are the fourth most among all FBS schools.

Nebraska adds walk-on kicker from club soccer team to football roster

A walk-on kicker from Geneva, Illinois, has been added to Nebraska's football roster.

Carriker Chronicles: Can Nebraska's offense keep improving against Illinois? Plus, Adam's prediction

On Thursday's episode, Adam Carriker discusses Nebraska's improving offense, strong defense and its inconsistent special teams unit. Carriker also gives his predictions for Nebraska's matchup with Illinois, his keys to victory and more.

Video: Troy Walters on what it will take to earn Scott Frost's first road win as Husker head coach

Assistant coach Greg Austin discussed which Husker offensive lineman has progressed the most so far this season, and offensive coordinator Troy Walters talked about what the team needs to do to earn Scott Frost's first road win as NU's head…

Husker notes: Adrian Martinez improved each game, coach says; Illini boast disruptive pass rush

Mario Verduzco has seen improvement from Adrian Martinez in each game, he said. “He’s just so much smoother, so much more comfortable."

How do the Huskers decide who to redshirt? They start by looking at special teams

If Ryan Held has his way, Rahmir Johnson won't be redshirting this season.

Husker opponent preview: Everything you need to know about the Illinois Fighting Illini

More known for his lavish beard than his coaching pedigree these days, Lovie Smith remains at Illinois after being hired in 2016.

Husker practice report, Sept. 18: Brenden Jaimes practices, coaches confident in Broc Bando

One of the longest-tenured and most important starters on Nebraska's football team, left tackle Brenden Jaimes, practiced Wednesday as the Huskers continued preparation for Illinois.

Carriker Chronicles: Darrion Daniels on the Blackshirts' success, playing for Mike Gundy and Scott Frost

On Tuesday's episode, Adam Carriker previews Nebraska volleyball's upcoming matchup against Stanford. The Huskers jumped the No. 2 Cardinal in the polls this week, and will look to avenge their loss in last year's national championship game. Carriker also shares…

Jack Hoffman, 13, plays in first school football game, 6 years after his Huskers touchdown run

"Overwhelming is the best way to explain it," Andy Hoffman said. "We're just so thankful that God gave Jack this opportunity."

When Brenden Jaimes went down, Broc Bando stepped up for the Huskers at left tackle

Once spring camp rolled around, Broc Bando had transformed his physique and his approach. “I was going full effort every play instead of worrying about mistakes,” Bando said just before the start of NU’s season. He did not talk this…

Pick Six Podcast: Husker injury updates and revised Big Ten predictions for 2019

World-Herald staff writers Sam McKewon, Evan Bland and Chris Heady tackle the hottest Husker headlines in the latest episode of the Pick Six Podcast.

Kearney grad, Husker walk-on Isaiah Stalbird has already 'made some huge steps' for Nebraska

The old acquaintances have come flooding back for Isaiah Stalbird. Former teachers. Friends he lost touch with. People he grew up around. Everyone, it seems, noticed his breakout football game Saturday night.

Husker notes: Garrett Nelson says his role has been 'a blast'; Blackshirt turnovers way ahead of 2018 pace

Garrett Nelson's eyes sparkle. His breathing gets heavy and a grin creeps across his face. All this in response to a question about how it feels to be earning a larger role as a Husker.

Who is the fastest player on the Husker football team? Rahmir Johnson says he's in the running

Nebraska running back Rahmir Johnson puts himself in the top two fastest Huskers on the team. Maybe top three. Pretty good for a true freshman.

Sam McKewon's Big Ten football power rankings, Sept. 17

The World-Herald's Sam McKewon compiled his Big Ten football power rankings, published in The World-Herald on Sept. 18.

Husker practice report, Sept. 17: Illinois RB Reggie Corbin has the NU defense's full attention

The Illini lost 34-31 to Eastern Michigan on Saturday. But Erik Chinander and the defensive staff have an eye on Illinois running back Reggie Corbin, who is averaging 7.5 yards per carry so far this season.

The Husker defense is embracing its heavy workload

Give the Nebraska defense more snaps. Give it all the snaps.

Husker running back Dedrick Mills' big performance was 'just a matter of time'

Dedrick Mills ran like a loose horse in an open field Saturday night. The usually-bruising back stretched his legs on a 60-yard gallop down the west sideline.

Despite adversity early in his career, Braxton Clark stuck with the Huskers. Now it's paying off

Braxton Clark's support system got him through the tough moments.

Noah Vedral was 'ready to go' when his number was called against Northern Illinois

Sophomore Noah Vedral saw action in two different positions Saturday.