Receivers Deliver Again:
Illinois has found itself a solid duo of receivers in junior Geronimo Allison and true freshman Mike Dudek. Allison tallied 5 catches for 118 yards and a touchdown, while Dudek grabbed 6 passes for 90 yards and added a 27 yard rush. Dudek and Allison have emerged as two of Illinois' biggest playmaking threats to go along with junior RB Josh Ferguson. Allison, despite missing the Texas State game, has tallied a total of 21 receptions for 418 yards and 3 TD while Dudek has grabbed 25 passes for 339 yards and 3 TD. The Illinois quarterbacks will need to continue to find these guys to stretch the field and make big plays in the passing game.
Give The Punter Some:
Justin DuVernois was plenty busy on Saturday. With Illinois only possessing the ball 1/3 of the game, DuVernois was frequently booting it on three and outs and averaged 42.3 yards per punt, including a career-long 74 yard punt. DuVernois is averaging 44.8 yards per punt on the season, which is 19th nationally among punters. Not really a stat you brag about, but nonetheless you give credit for it because he's doing what he's supposed to.
Illinois Safeties, Tackling Machines:
Taylor Barton (54) and Zane Petty (50) rank 7th and 17th, respectively, in tackles nationally so far this season and are two of the only three DB's in the top 20 individuals in the country. Why is that a problem? That means that plays are often getting to the safeties. With the exception of Western Kentucky, Illinois has primarily faced run-heavy teams. But plays are getting back to the safeties, which means the front seven really isn't stopping as many plays as it should be. Mason Monheim as 51 tackles on the season, which means that Illinois has 3 of the top 20 individual tackles leaders in the country. That alone is indicative to the amount of snaps the Illinois defense is having to take and how opponents are able to extend drives. Against Nebraska, Petty racked up 15 tackles while Barton notched 12.
In This Case, It Isn't Better to Give Than to Receive:
The Illinois defense was able to force a couple of early Nebraska turnovers. T.J. Neal intercepted Tommy Armstrong just as the Huskers were about to head into the red zone, and Monheim later stripped Imani Cross with Eaton Spence recovering, however Illinois gave the ball away at some more than inopportune times, most notably from just outside the endzone early in the first quarter. Nebraska was already controlling the ball enough as it was, but giving the ball back to the Huskers' power running attack only worsened the situation.
Four hundred and fifty-eight yards. That was Nebraska's rushing yardage total on the night. Admittedly, Illinois' rush defense wasn't anything to write home about coming into this game, but this one blew the doors off the stat sheet. After Saturday's game, Illinois' rush defense now ranks 113th in the nation out of 125 teams. The Illini are surrendering 229 yards per game on the ground on average, but gave up nearly twice that to Nebraska. Let's face it, you know Nebraska is going to run the ball, but for the Huskers to be able to put up nearly 460 yards is just impossible to justify.
Did I mention Illinois gave up 458 yards rushing?
Third Down & Out:
Without much of a rushing attack against Nebraska, Illinois found themselves in a lot of third and long situations. The Illini finished 3-of-14 on third down conversions (compared to 7-15 for Nebraska). Unable to sustain drives, Illinois never really found any offensive continuity. Their two touchdowns came on big plays: one, a big run by Ferguson, the second, a bomb to Allison. Without converting third downs, the offense put an overwhelmed and exhausted defense back on the field for another series up against the Nebraska rushing attack.
The Good News?
Purdue is next up for Illinois. Illinois will try to put the Nebraska game behind them and get back on track against a reeling Purdue squad.