Nebraska vs Illinois primer

Nebraska is nearly a three touchdown favorite, but after what happened against McNeese State earlier in the year, it's likely Illinois will get the full attention of the Huskers.

(21) Nebraska (4-0) vs. Illinois (3-1)

Nebraska schedule:
(W) Florida Atlantic 55-7
(W) McNeese State 31-24
(W) Freno State 55-19
(W) Miami 41-21

Illinois schedule:
(W) Youngstown St 28-17
(W) W. Kentucky 42-34
(L) Washington 44-19
(W) Texas State 42-35

LINCOLN, Neb. - Last season Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah rushed for 225 yards against Illinois in a 39-19 victory. If he does it again on Saturday night, Abdullah might just be everyone’s Heisman favorite.

The senior running back enters Big Ten play No. 2 in the country in rushing yards and hopes the success continues when No. 21 Nebraska (4-0) takes on Illinois (3-1) at 8 p.m. CT in Lincoln on Saturday.

Through four games, Abdullah has rushed for 625 yards, finding the end zone five times and rushing for 6.8 yard per carry. He’s also been a threat out of the backfield as a receiver, catching five balls for 108 yards and two scores.

“He continues to show why he is who he is,” said Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini. “Anybody out there who says he isn’t big enough, that he doesn’t run big, they need to take a good, hard look at that film.”

It hasn’t just been Abdullah who’s made the Nebraska offense go in 2014. The Huskers are averaging 45.5 points per contest, good for No. 9 in the country. A large part of the improvement over last season has been the success of sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who’s now 11-1 as a starting quarterback dating back to last season.

Armstrong, who arguably has been the best quarterback in the Big Ten conference so far, has thrown for 886 yards and nine touchdowns to just two interceptions in four games. Some of his biggest contributions though have been on the ground, where he’s rushed for 354 yards and two scores.

“People underrate Tommy as a runner. He gasses people, he is really swift and has good moves in the open field,” said Abdullah. “He was a tough guy this summer and really worked on his quickness and it is really starting to show. Just because he is a quarterback doesn’t mean he can’t take hits or deliver it to people.”

If Armstrong leads the way for breakout player in the Big Ten this season, Illinois quarterback West Lunt isn’t far behind. A sophomore as well, the Oklahoma State transfer has thrown for 1,237 yards in the Fighting Illini’s first four games, throwing 11 touchdowns.

“I know personally I’m excited. It will be nice to go out there and just know that the ball gets thrown around a little bit,” said Nebraska senior cornerback Josh Mitchell, who’s seeing his defense hold opponents to 20.3 points per game. “The ball is going to be in the air, so for us just making sure our technique is good during the week and just making sure that we know rock concepts and we’re tuned into the game.”

This will be the second time the Illini come to Lincoln in back-to-back years, after schedules had to be adjusted to add the new additions of the Big Ten in Rutgers and Maryland.

“(I've) been there with the Fighting Illini and also with the (Oklahoma State) Cowboys,” said Illinois head coach Tim Beckman. “It's a great place to play college football at and you're going to have to respond to Lincoln just like you'd have to respond anywhere, really, in this conference.”

The game can be seen on the Big Ten Network.

Listen to Ameer Abdullah speak to reporters about the Huskers upcoming matchup with Illinois:

Harvey’s keys to a Nebraska win:

1.) On defense, bodies on bodies will be needed: Illinois likes to get rid of the ball quickly, electing to try to expose teams with short routes than throwing downfield. It won’t just be on the Nebraska defensive line to get early pressure. The secondary needs to do a good job forcing Lunt to try to connect with receivers downfield by pressing them within the first ten yards. When that happens, Lunt is more prone to make the big mistake.

2.) Rush the football…rush the football…rush the football: Abdullah had 35 carries last week and likely shouldn’t see that much action again, but that doesn’t mean Nebraska’s Imani Cross and Terrell Newby can’t have a big impact on Saturday’s game plan. In Illinois one loss this season, they gave up 245 yards on the ground to Washington, who’s not as effective pounding the rock as Nebraska. The Fighting Illini haven’t proven they can shutdown a good running team for a while.

3.) Know where Josh Ferguson is on the field: Last season the junior had his best game of the season against Nebraska, combing for over 200 yards on the ground and through the air. It’s likely the Illinois coaching staff will try to expose the Huskers’ defense the same way Miami did last week with running back Duke Johnson. Shutdown Ferguson and the visitors might have a hard time finding the end zone.

Big Red Report score predictions:

Josh Harvey, staff: Nebraska: 44, Illinois: 17

Bryan Munson, staff: Nebraska: 42, Illinois: 21

HuskerMo, moderator: Nebraska: 50, Illinois: 22

HuskerDrummer, member: Nebraska: 49, Illinois: 17

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