CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Instead of retiring Dick Butkus’ jersey Saturday night, Illinois should have asked the Hall of Fame linebacker to put it on and help try to stop Nebraska.
The 2-0 Huskers, ranked fifth and sixth nationally, scored 12 seconds into the game, rolled up a 38-7 halftime lead and went on to blast the Illini 59-14 before a sellout Memorial Stadium crowd in Champaign of 75,865.
Nebraska scored on the game’s first play from scrimmage when cornerback Brian Davis intercepted a pass and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown.
The NU offense then scored on its fourth, 10th and 15th plays from scrimmage to build a 28-0 first-quarter lead.
Nebraska’s defense went just as wild early in the game.
The Huskers held Illinois to 28 yards in the first quarter and forced three turnovers. The results of the Illini’s first 10 snaps of the game: interception, 1-yard gain, 5-yard penalty, fumble, minus-2, minus-1, minus-2, 3, incomplete pass and sack.
The final statistics reflect Nebraska’s domination throughout the game. The Huskers outgained Illinois 543 total yards to 207 and held the Illini to 3 yards rushing, NU’s best effort against the run since the Huskers stopped Oklahoma State on a minus-13 yards in 1980.
“I was naturally pleased with the way we played,” NU Coach Tom Osborne said. “We got an awful lot of help early. The first play that interception for a touchdown and an early turnover and another quick score made it hard to know what the strengths of the two teams were.”
Junior I-back Keith Jones, who rushed for a career-high 168 yards in 16 carries, got 127 of that and two touchdowns including a 78-yarder in his first 10 carries to help build NU construct its 38-7 halftime advantage. That was the most Husker points in a first half since NU had 38 in last year’s 56-6 win over Kansas.
After getting 93 total yards from the I-backs against Florida State, Osborne said Jones’ effort was a key.
“I was really pleased to see Keith Jones get a lot of good plays,” he said. “We needed production out of our Iback.”
That’s because Illinois keyed on quarterback Steve Taylor. The sophomore, who rushed for 139 yards against Florida State, had 21 yards in 7 carries Saturday.
“After the Florida State game, they obviously weren’t going to let the quarterback run loose,” Osborne said. “Steve got knocked around nothing illegal, he just got hit hard. He was shaken up a couple of times in the first half.”
But by halftime, even Butkus figured the game was over.
After he was presented his retired No. 50, the former Chciago Bears star gave a short speech, then rolled his eyes and added sarcastically, “Enjoy the rest of the game.”
Illini fans appeared ready to have a big day. A weekend of festivities that included Butkus’ ceremony, a dinner honoring past Rose Bowl teams and the largest pom-pon giveaway in college history 72,000 of them had the orange-clad fans juiced.
But the tailgate party crowd hadn’t even reached its seats by the time Nebraska scored its first touchdown.
After Ray Wilson returned the opening kickoff 6 yards to the Illinois 28, Illini quarterback Shane Lamb dropped back to throw on the first play.
His chest-high pass on an 8-yard hook pattern went through the hands of wide receiver Darryl Usher and into the hands of Nebraska’s Davis, who raced 32 yards untouched into the end zone. Dale Klein kicked the first of his six extra points to make it 7-0 NU just 12 seconds into the game.
The NU defense got the ball back two plays later as tackle Lee Jones knocked it loose from a scrambling Lamb and Broderick Thomas recovered at the Illini 22.
Three Keith Jones runs produced 16 yards, then Taylor rolled left on an option and scored easily from the 6 to make it 14-0 with 12:43 left in the first quarter.
“We added to the success of their team,” Illinois Coach Mike White said. “I am even more disappointed because of the recognition tonight of Dick Butkus. But what can you say?”
Eight minutes later, after an Illinois punt, Jones took a handoff from Taylor, swept right, got a block from tackle Keven Lightner and blazed 78 yards down the sideline for a touchdown to put NU up 21-0.
On the ensuing kickoff, Husker cornerback Cleo Miller smacked Usher, forcing a fumble that Davis recovered at the Illinois 35.
Wingback Dana Brinson’s 19-yard reverse was the big play in Nebraska’s five-play scoring drive that followed. Backup fullback Micah Heibel finished it with a 5-yard blast up the middle, giving the Huskers a 28-0 lead with 2:48 left in the first quarter.
Illinois bounced back with its only score of the half on a 12-play, 67-yard drive.
Lamb’s 21-yard strike to split end Stan Fit with 1:48 left in the first quarter put the Illini in Nebraska territory for the first time.
Lamb’s 16-yard pass to Stephen Pierce and a defensive holding penalty helped Illnois get to the NU 14.
On a third-and-9 play from the 13, Lamb hit Fit for 6 yards.
Gambling on fourth down, Lamb found tight end Jerry Reese open in the front corner of the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown pass. Chris Siambekos made the extra point to cut Nebraska’s advantage to 28-7.
Von Sheppard’s 43-yard kickoff return got the Huskers back in Illini territory immediately at the 47.
Fullback Ken Kaelin’s 17-yard burst and Jones’ 14-yard blast pushed the ball inside the 10. After an illegal procedure penalty, Taylor scrambled for 8 yards before Jones swept left and scored from the 1. Klein’s conversion made it 35-7 with 7:19 left in the second quarter.
Illinois rebounded with another strong drive, helped by a Nebraska penalty.
Lamb hit Pierce with a pass and NU’s Davis hit Pierce late to turn a 9-yard gain into a 24-yarder.
An 8-yard pass to Pierce got the ball to the NU 36. After two incompletions and a no gain on a draw, Illinois tried again on fourth down. Lamb had Pierce wide open down the middle at the NU 5, but overthrew him.
Nebraska then used up all but 10 seconds of the remaining 4:01 of the first half with a 12-play, 54-yard drive that led to a field goal.
Backup quarterback Clete Blakeman hit split end Jason Gamble with a 16-yard pass, then Gamble later recovered a Jon Kelley fumble to preserve a 16-yard gain.
Blakeman found Brinson for 11 yards, but the drive stalled at the Illini 13 after an illegal procedure penalty. Klein came on to kick a 23-yard field goal, pushing Nebraska’s lead to 38-7 just before half.
After an exchange of punts to start the second half, Nebraska marched 70 yards in 10 plays for another touchdown.
Taylor gained 10 on a keeper and got 5 more yards when Illinois was called for grabbing the face mask. Taylor and Jones then hooked up on an option play where Taylor gained about 10 yards before flipping to Jones for another 7, moving the ball to the Illini 18.
Jones’ 9-yard later two plays later helped set up Taylor’s 1-yard sneak for a touchdown, making it 45-7.
The Huskers added another third quarter touchdown on a 12-play, 89-yard drive tht last 5:29.
Freshman I-back Terry Rodgers, who had 65 yards on 10 carries while making his first appearance in the NU backfield, had gains of 4, 2, 4, 2, 4, 6 and 11 yards on the drive.
Quarterback McCathorn Clayton, also getting his first snaps of the season, relieved Blakeman midway through the drive and finished the march.
Clayton used a play-action fake to freeze the Illini defense before finding tight end Willie Griffin with a 21-yard touchdown pass.
Craig Schnitzler’s PAT kick pushed the Husker lead to 52-7 with 16 seconds left in the third quarter.
Illinois scored its second touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Lamb suffered a knee injury early in the possession, but freshman backup Brian Menkhausen completed the 10-play, 77-yard march.
Menkhausen’s short crossing pass to tight end Anthony Williams turned into a 52-yard gain when Williams slipped two tackles. Five plays later, Menkhausen hit Gordon, who made a diving catch of the 17-yard pass for a touchdown. Siambekos’ conversion made it 52-14 with 9:28 to play.
Nebraska finished the scoring with 4:07 left in the game. Runs by Rodgers of 11 and 19 yards and a 16-yarder by fullback Tyreese Knox set up Rodgers’ 2-yard TD burst. Schnitzler’s kick made it 59-14.
Osborne said he’s happy to be 2-0. But he said Oregon, a 63-0 loser to Nebraska last year, will provide a different test this week.
“I’m going under the old gloom and doom deal again, but I’m a little concerned about Oregon,” he said. “It will be the first game where everybody will say, “No problem.’ It will be a game where overconfidence can be a problem.
“If our players are thinking it will be quick and easy and simple, they’ll get surprised. So we really have to continue to play well.”
|Yards per carry||0.1||7.3|
Nebraska is 12-3 all-time against Illinois.
|Florida State||Sept. 6|
|South Carolina||Oct. 4|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 11|
|Kansas State||Nov. 1|
|Iowa State||Nov. 8|
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