What We Learned @ Nebraska

A few things learned from Illinois' 39-19 loss at Nebraska Saturday in the Big Ten opener.

1. The defense is… not good. These Big Ten offenses will grind you up and spit you out. Illinois couldn't stop the run Saturday. Couldn't stop the pass either, but it was the way that Ameer Abdullah ran through, around and past the Illini defenders that looked so bad. There were huge holes opened up (couldn't shed blocks, didn't win at the point of attack) and Abdullah made many miss at the second level (tackling woes continue). Nebraska averaged 9.3 yards per pass and 6.7 yards each run. So… Everything was and looked easy. Hey, we knew there would be a learning curve this season. The line and secondary is just not in good standing in regard to talent, depth and experience. Excuses (explanations) aside, defensive coordinator Tim Banks has to figure out a way around the limitations holding the unit back. The defense isn't forcing turnovers and isn't getting to the quarterback. The best way to describe it is, the defense is both bending and breaking.

2. The offense carries the mood ring. Bill Cubit has done a hell of a job this season. He's given Nathan Scheelhaase confidence. He's given the entire offense a confident look. That confidence spreads everywhere, the defense, the staff, the fans, the everything. But when the offense doesn't score, the feelings turn sour quick. Steve Hull's dropped touchdown against Washington and Donovonn Young's fumble Saturday virtually sucked the life out of the entire Illini Nation. OK, maybe I'm being dramatic. But because of the defense's extreme struggle, the situation when Scheelhaase gets sacked or a drive ends in no points or anything besides perfect happens on offense, a negative feeling creeps up. Illinois has to outscore opponents. Fact. But it can't score on every drive. That's OK. The entire team has to fight the urge to let doubt dictate the outcome.

3. Josh Ferguson is legit. Hey, I'll admit I wasn't quite ready to call Josh Ferguson a feature player, even after he piled up rushing and receiving yards in the Illini's first four games. I questioned the competition and wondered if he could makes those daring moves against Big Ten defenders. Who wouldn't? Dancing through Miami of Ohio on ridiculous touchdown runs is one thing. Rushing for 114 yards and catching eight passes for 82 yards on the road against Nebraska is another. Ferguson is the best thing the offense has going. And coming into the season, I didn't even think he was team's best running back.

4. Nate's one tough son of a gun, but… Like the Washington game, he never looked comfortable to me on Saturday. His feet rarely were set. The vertical passing game was nullified by Nebraska blitzing and Scheelhaase's hesitant look. I know Washington has a boss secondary and Nebraska's defense, while young, is talented. But Scheelhaase can't keep taking sacks within scoring range. He's a fighter and a guy you want on your side because he knows his stuff and isn't afraid to take a shot. But 13 of 26 for 135 yards isn't going to get Illinois where it wants to go.

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