As Harvey Sees It: Illinois observations

BRR publisher Josh Harvey gives his thoughts on Saturday's contest between Illinois and Nebraska.


1.) Nebraska fans can probably live with that defense. There was no question on Saturday the Huskers' defense looked better. Still "a work in progress" as defensive coordinator John Papuchis said, but better. This crew is too young to be on of the best defenses in the Big Ten, but a performance like Saturday's week in and week out would probably have them contending for an appearance in the Big Ten Championship game.

Illinois' offense came in averaging over 40 points per game. While they haven't necessarily played the biggest juggernauts on defense, the Fighting Illini have been moving the ball. Nebraska's offense is good enough to outscore people (when they pound the rock – more on this later), which means a couple stops or key turnovers and the wins will come.

"Defensively, we played hard. I thought we executed pretty well," said head coach Bo Pelini. "I thought they competed. We had the chance to get off the field a couple of times and we didn't. But, overall, I thought our guys played well. They stood up. At the end of that first half, first we got a penalty and we back ourselves up." as that's concerned. That's what you want to see as a coach."

2.) Linebacker Michael Rose had a hell of a game. Getting his first major action of his career, the redshirt freshman got the start in place of Zaire Anderson who was banged up. Rose finished with a game high 11 stops and proved to be a solid tackler – a sight for sore eyes.

"He looked very confident. It looked like he did a lot of good things out there," said Pelini.

I would have to agree. Rose has some versatility due to the fact that he can play both the MIKE and WILL. All I know is when facing teams that will allow the Huskers to play base defense, Rose needs to be out there.

3.) LeRoy Alexander gets some time. The Ohio native found himself in the right place during the right time, picking up a fumble in first quarter, otherwise, it was a pretty uneventful day for the redshirt freshman, as he got welcomed to Big Ten football a couple times on a few nice Illinois stiff arms. The staff decided to go with him over Charles Jackson, meaning he didn't do enough in the bye week.

4.) No momentum allowed. On Friday I wrote this Illinois team had some momentum coming into Saturday. I still believe it. Here is exactly what I wrote:

"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."

I think mission accomplished. I like the pressure Pelini brought early and it set the tone for the rest of the half.

5.) Was anyone really surprised by Abdullah's output? One of my keys to the game was for Nebraska to pound the football. For the most part, they did just that. Abdullah had a new career high going over 200 yards in the contest, with his most impressive run coming on a cutback in the third quarter.

"The guys did their best to bust down the field for me," said Abdullah. "A lot of times in college football the longer runs come from when teammates are blocking downfield. One person I remember in particular was Jake Cotton. I got the ball, outrun one guy and I looked up field and saw Jake Cotton busting his butt down field. He cut the guy off and I just did the rest."

6.) From praise to what the heck. I still don't know what Nebraska was thinking on the series late in the second half where Imani Cross got taken down for a safety. A couple things come to mind. First, Beck was pretty predictable with two dives right up the middle on first and second down. Second, if you are going to go with a run to the outside on third down, why wasn't Terrell Newby or Ameer Abdullah in? That isn't Cross' strong suit.

I actually wouldn't have minded Nebraska taking a chance or two there. I know it's late in the half and you have a big lead, but the Huskers would have been punting into a heavy wind. A long pass down-field, unless returned for a touchdown, would have been about the same as a punt if it was intercepted. At that point Nebraska controlled things, but it was still a game. They find a way to score on a 96-yard drive – it's over.

7.) Nice catch Kenny Bell. Enough said.

8.) Enunwa just scores touchdowns. How can you not defend Nebraska's leading defender in the Red Zone? It just seems like every team finds a way to lose him around the goal line. Credit to the Nebraska quarterbacks for looking his way time and time again.

It's a shame this kid is a senior. I think he gets drafted, but how nice would it be to have him back another season if you are Nebraska?

"Coaches are calling the plays and I'm executing them," said Enunwa. "The quarterbacks are finding me in the end zone and I'm catching the ball. That's about it. I worked in the offseason to be better than I was last year, and so far I'm doing pretty well."

9.) For weeks we have been hearing how close the Nebraska kicking competition is. We thought it was because they were both rock solid, all-conference caliber kickers. Yeah, maybe not. Two missed extra points has to be worrying the coaching staff going forward.

"That's a big level of concern. It's inexcusable. It's not acceptable," said Pelini. "That's the way we kicked during the week. We didn't miss any extra points, but they have to raise their sense of urgency. They've got to get it figured out. We weren't good enough in practice during the two weeks. I had to jump them a couple times in practice. Our consistency there has got to pick up. If it doesn't, it's gonna cost us a football game. It can't happen that way. Fortunately, it didn't hurt us today. But that will kill you down the line. So we've got to get that figured out and fixed."

If they don't get it fixed, an extra point or a short field goal (less than 35 yards) will come back to bite them at some point – I guarantee it.

10.) Last but not least, Tommy Armstrong. I will have more on this Sunday afternoon, as I sleep on it, but I can say that I was impressed with Armstrong once again on Saturday afternoon. He looks calm and really comfortable, something he echoed in the post game.

"I felt comfortable. I've got my trust in my teammates and I trust them as well," said Armstrong. "Going into this week just like two weeks ago, it's a chemistry thing. We have to prepare the right way. Coach (Pelini) always tells me that if you prepare the right way, confidence will become a habit. That's what all of it has to do with."

Pelini was asked after the game if there was going to be a quarterback battle when Martinez game back – he quickly shot that down. I will talk about that on Sunday, but I will say this, I don't understand the reps Kellogg is getting.

I hear he's a great teammate and I like that they rewarded him for his efforts against time against South Dakota State. I didn't mind the rotation then. But Big Ten play has started and Tommy Armstrong is your future.

If Armstrong is your starter because he's your best bet to win, you get him as many reps as possible. I just look him at Kellogg and don't see a big enough difference to warrant the change.

Harvey's Around CFB Quick Hitters:

* I thought Northwestern got a horrible spot late in the fourth quarter against Ohio State. I know you can't reverse the play because their was a lack of evidence, but you could tell by the video replay from behind that he got the first. I also questioned why one line judge was so much farther up on the spot than the other one, than just so easily took a yard or so back.

* Iowa and Michigan State went about how I thought it would. Neither team would allow a running back to get going, meaning whichever quarterback was better would win. I didn't think it would be MSU.

* Starting to get pretty sick of the SEC bias. Georgia's Aaron Murray goes 19-for-35 against a bad Tennessee team, barely squeaking out a win, and he's up for a All-American player of the week award by ABC?

* Baylor is literally averaging over 70 points a game. West Virginia gave up 864 total yards to them today? Cough cough, Art Briles to Texas, cough cough.

* South Dakota State lost their third straight. They were 3-2 coming into this week, but ranked still in the FCS top ten because their losses were to No. 1 NDSU and Nebraska. Today it was to a under .500 Southern Illinois – OUCH.

* Speaking of NDSU, they needed 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to beat No. 4 Northern Iowa. The Bison rally and should stay No. 1 in FCS.

* Pretty impressed with Florida State's efforts on Saturday. I have watched parts of their games this year and their offense is definitely potent. They can play with anyone. Their match-up with Clemson will be the game of the week next week – we don't say that very often about an ACC game.

* FOX Sports/ will be starting a new college football poll starting this week. I have been asked to be on the 15 person panel – consisting of various team publishers and general college football writers. I will publish my entire top 25 poll later this week, but here is my top ten after this week's action.

1.) Alabama
2.) Oregon
3.) Clemson
4.) Florida State
5.) Stanford
6.) Georgia
7.) Ohio State
8.) Louisville
9.) LSU
10.) Oklahoma

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Josh Harvey has covered college football and recruiting for Fox Sports & since 2008. He is now the Publisher of Big Red Report, covering Nebraska athletics.
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