Summer opponent preview: Illinois

Big Red Report's Kyle Phillippi breaks down future Nebraska opponents this fall.

Illinois Fighting Illini – October 5, 2013

2012 Record: 2-10 (0-8 Big Ten)

Nathan Scheelhaase
Best Returning Player – Offense: QB Nathan Scheelhaase

Ever since taking over as the starter in Champaign, Scheelhaase has seen a decline in his numbers. As a freshman, he racked up 17 passing touchdowns and 1,825 yards. The following season, Scheelhaase only tossed 13 touchdowns but did throw for a little more than 2,000 yards.

Last season was a year to forget. The Kansas City native had the lowest passer rating in his career at 105.9 and only threw for four touchdowns. This can be credited to an injury that forced him to miss three games, but even so, he was off to a sluggish start just as his team was.

He has all the talent in the world to be a dangerous dual-threat quarterback; however, he only has one more year to put that talent to work.

Best Returning Player – Defense: LB Jonathan Brown

Like Scheelhaase, Brown missed three games to injury as a junior. Prior to being held out the final three weeks of the season, Brown compiled 43.5 tackles and 2.5 sacks. His biggest contribution to the defense comes in his ability to get into the backfield. He led the team with 9.5 tackles for loss while also forcing one fumble.

?His recovery from the shoulder injury will go a long way in determining how effective the Illini defense will be in 2013. If he's not back to his old self, Illinois will be in for a long season against the opposing Big Ten offense.

Biggest Loss – DE Michael Buchannan and DT Akeem Spence

?With both off to the NFL, the Illinois defensive line will look a lot different and a lot less intimidating for the opposition. Buchannan led the team with 4.5 sacks and five quarterback hits. His long arms allowed him to obstruct the passer's vision, as well. The defensive end racked up five pass breakups in his final season.

Meanwhile, Spence tallied seven tackles for loss and one sack at defensive tackle. He also collected 52 tackles and forced one fumble.

Illinois will use of trio of tackles and ends to replace the loss of their two biggest contributors up front. Tim Kynard, who had three tackles for loss and one sack in 2012, will be the Illini's top returning lineman.

Last Meeting vs. Nebraska – September 21, 1985

Despite being in the Big Ten for two years, Nebraska has yet to matchup with Illinois. It's been over 25 years since they last faced Illinois.

In that game, the Huskers, ranked No. 17 at the time, toppled No. 20 Illinois in front of the Nebraska fans by a score of 52-25.

How They Matchup with Nebraska

2011 Statistics:

Scoring Offense: Illinois (16.7), Nebraska (34.8)
Scoring Defense: Illinois (32.1), Nebraska (27.6)

Passing Offense: Illinois (168.8), Nebraska (207.4)
Passing Defense: Illinois (193.7), Nebraska (168.1)

Rushing Offense: Illinois (127.8), Nebraska (253.4)
Rushing Defense: Illinois (193.9), Nebraska (192.5)

Total Offense: Illinois (296.7), Nebraska (460.8)
Total Defense: Illinois (387.6), Nebraska (360.6)

Nebraska Player to Watch vs. Illinois – RB Ameer Abdullah

The Illinois defense isn't going to be stopping many teams next season. They were one of the worst units last season despite having two NFL-talent defensive linemen. By removing those two from the equation, it's hard to imagine them being much better, if at all.

With inexperienced linemen going up against Nebraska's offensive line, Nebraska should have no trouble getting a good push and creating holes for Abdullah to cut into. After tallying four straight 100-yard games against Big Ten competition between October 20 and November 10, the junior will be in for a field day against the porous Illini defense.

Interesting Illinois Fact

In their only two wins last season against Western Michigan and Charleston Southern, the Illini scored 68 points while allowing only seven. In their eight conference losses, Illinois allowed 30 or more points six times and 50 or more points twice.

*** Posted by BRR Publisher Josh Harvey ***

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