Keys to victory: Illinois

BRR breaks down the top five keys to a Nebraska victory against Illinois.


Key No. 5: Get to 35 points or more

Nebraska is 28-1 under Bo Pelini when they score 35 points or more, including 3-0 this year. The question becomes, can the Nebraska defense hold Illinois under 35 points? It probably depends on how well the Nebraska offense moves the ball, keeping the Fighting Illini's offense off the field. By the way, their one loss when scoring 35 or more points was to Ohio State last year.

Key No. 4: Withstand an early surge

At 3-1 on the year, Illinois already has more wins than they did last season, when they went winless in conference play. Things are looking up in Champaign and a win on the road against a traditional Top 25 team could do wonders for their program. Head coach Tim Beckman has his squad playing well and their recent success will likely have them playing as a confident bunch early in Lincoln. Nebraska needs to overcome any early momentum the Fighting Illini have. If the Huskers can put Illinois in an early hole, they might start to panic. Last year Beckman's crew lost by 14 or more points nine times.

Key No. 3: Get off the field

Illinois currently ranks No. 12 in the country on third-down completion percentage, while Nebraska ranks just No. 94 in getting third-down stops. This could end up being the stat of the game, especially if Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase decides to get out of the pocket. While he hasn't run much this season, he's a threat to take off if the pocket is collapsing. Over the years, it seems like Nebraska's biggest third-down blunders have come on quarterbacks running.

Key No. 2: Pound the rock

At times offensive coordinator Tim Beck has been his own worst enemy, getting too creative. The Huskers have an all-conference caliber running back and a senior filled offensive line up front. I expect them to limit the freshman quarterback's throws downfield and let their running attack, which is traditionally pretty good, take over. The best way to beat Illinois is to not let their offense matchup with Nebraska's young defense. The Fighting Illini rank No. 69 in the country in stopping the run and haven't exactly faced any big time rushing attacks. Expect Ameer Abdullah to have a big game.

Key No. 1 Know your defensive assignment

Illinois is known to be very multiple on offense, which means the young Nebraska defense will have to be ready for different looks. The Fighting Illini might come out five wide with nobody in the backfield and the next play have a double tight-end set with a fullback. The Huskers are going to have to adjust on the fly and make sure everyone is locked into their assignment – this starts before the snap, communication is key.
Josh Harvey has covered college football and recruiting for Fox Sports NEXT since 2008. He is now the Publisher of Big Red Report, covering Nebraska athletics.
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