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.

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

Scott Frost wants Adrian Martinez to let it rip — and against Illinois, he should have that chance

Aggressive is how NU's head coach wants his start quarterback to stay going forward.

Husker notes: No injury updates on Brenden Jaimes, but Broc Bando 'was more than ready' in debut

No comment from Frost on the injury to left tackle Brenden Jaimes, who left the game in the fourth quarter. He said the depth chart indicated the next player up. That would be Broc Bando, who finished the fourth quarter.

It's Big Ten time: Huskers embrace the fresh start with beginning of conference schedule

For all that has happened to the Huskers in three weeks, everything resets for the upcoming nine-game Big Ten slate.

Video: Scott Frost's complete Husker football press conference, Sept. 16

Scott Frost is ready for the start of Big Ten play, and the Husker coach spent about 17 minutes Monday at his weekly press conference setting the stage for the week.

Huskers award scholarship to former walk-on, Creighton Prep grad Jeramiah Stovall

Coach Scott Frost announced Monday the 5-foot-11, 200-pound defensive back will lose his walk-on status thanks to steady, positive production on and off the field.

Husker press conference, Sept. 16: For Scott Frost and Nebraska, it's next man up after injuries

Nebraska had its best offensive game of the season with 526 yards in a 44-8 win over Northern Illinois. But coach Scott Frost, in his press conference Monday, said the team can still play a lot better on offense.

Nebraska-Ohio State game set for ABC's Saturday night spotlight

It'll be the third straight night game in a row for Nebraska and it'll be the third straight time OSU has played a night game at NU.

Blackshirts don't want to be a side dish to the Husker offense. Against NIU, they served notice

Nebraska’s defense held Northern Illinois' offense to six points Saturday. Though it was a MAC team at home under the lights, the Blackshirts want that goal-line stand to burn into your brains. To remind you they’re not here to mess…

McKewon: While the offense finds its footing, the Huskers' Big Ten hopes hinge on the Blackshirts

This year, the Husker D is the dutiful older brother — figuratively, literally — of the younger, more explosive, more inconsistent offense.

Huskers make walk-on offer to Reis Vernon, one of highest-ranked punters/kickers in 2020

Nebraska is in the market for a kicker in its 2020 class.

Sam McKewon's AP Top 25 poll, Sept. 15

Top 10 generally remains unchanged except for Utah taking the No. 9 spot away from Notre Dame who is now in tenth.

Full coverage of Huskers' win vs. Northern Illinois

Nebraska walked out of Memorial Stadium with a 44-8 victory against Northern Illinois on Saturday, and The World-Herald was there for all of it. Check out our complete coverage of the game.

Chatelain: The moments that proved Scott Frost, Adrian Martinez truly have no fear of failure

Frost endured a brutal week. His team blew a 17-point lead to an old rival. And for the first time since he returned to Lincoln on a white horse, Husker fans pointed the finger at him, not his players or…

Shatel: Huskers are still a work in progress, but we watched a winning formula take shape

There are still a lot of questions for Nebraska as we watch an identity take shape. What mattered on Saturday night was that the Huskers provided a resounding answer just when they needed it most.

Husker offense wanted to prove something — and it did with complete performance

The body language of offensive players leaving the field gave them away. Finally, they had played something close to a complete game.

Lesson learned: Huskers feeling good after starting fast, finishing strong against Northern Illinois

A line of men in red — a little fed up, a lot hungry, sensing a chance at blood — bolted toward one of the loneliest, most vulnerable positions on the football field. The punter.

Recruiting: Elkhorn South's Teddy Prochazka gets sold on Nebraska by two Husker commits

The junior from Elkhorn South was the center of attention on the sideline prior to kickoff between Nebraska and Northern Illinois.

Lane McCallum doesn't want to just be a kicker, but he'll do anything to help Huskers

The walk-on safety transfer from Air Force was minding his own business when his name was screamed by a coach on the sideline.

Husker notes: Injury watch for two players; ball hawks and more

Although Nebraska played one of the cleanest game of the Scott Frost era and beat Northern Illinois 44-8, two key Huskers may have sustained injuries that keep them out of future practice or play.

Video: Scott Frost's full press conference after Nebraska's win against Northern Illinois

Nebraska coach Scott Frost spoke for nearly nine minutes breaking down the Huskers' performance against Northern Illinois.

Martinez tracker: Stock up for Husker QB after turnover-free game

Each week, The World-Herald will track Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez's play game-to-game, including wow plays, turnovers, market indicator and more.

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

World-Herald staff writer Evan Bland takes a look at Nebraska's effort on both sides of the ball during the Huskers' victory against Northern Illinois.

Without running game, Northern Illinois coach Thomas Hammock says Huskies couldn’t find rhythm

It was easy for Northern Illinois coach Thomas Hammock to identify what kept the Huskies’ offense from scoring any touchdowns Saturday night against a suddenly stout Nebraska defense.

Winning numbers: The stats and figures that defined Nebraska's win against Northern Illinois

A closer look at the defining stats and figures from the Huskers' 44-8 win over Northern Illinois on Saturday.

Tom's Takes: Unlike some Big Ten peers, Huskers walk away with a really good win

World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel shares his immediate thoughts following the Huskers' 44-8 victory against Northern Illinois.

Nebraska-Northern Illinois: 3 things we learned, 3 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 win over Northern Illinois.

Carriker Chronicles: Gut reaction to Nebraska's win over Northern Illinois

On Saturday's episode, Adam Carriker gives his quick take to Nebraska defeating Northern Illinois.

Huskers earn dominant victory against Northern Illinois as backups see action late

Nebraska led the game 30-5 at halftime and maintained its lead in the second half as backups got to play in the final minutes.

Husker left tackle Brenden Jaimes leaves NIU game with injury in fourth quarter

Nebraska's already-thin depth at tackle may get thinner after starting left tackle Brenden Jaimes was injured in the fourth quarter of the Huskers' game against Northern Illinois.

From the sidelines: More Northern Illinois fans make the trip; Celebrating Bill Straub

Northern Illinois had a solid contingent of fans in the stands Saturday, especially in the southern-most corner of West stadium.