LINCOLN, Neb. – After holding on against Southern Miss last weekend, Nebraska (2-2) will travel to Illinois (3-1) on Saturday to kickoff Big Ten play.
The game, which was initially scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m., has been pushed back to 3:00 p.m. due to a game change on the East Coast.
Nebraska ranks among the top 20 nationally in passing and total offense heading into conference play, while quarterback tommy Armstrong Jr. ranks among the top 15 in the nation individually in both categories.
At the running back spot, Nebraska junior Terrell Newby has rushed for 399 yards on 70 carries, finding the end zone three times. His 5.7 yards a carry is good for sixth in the Big Ten.
On defense, Nebraska is currently last in the nation in pass defense, but have only given up 73.5 yards a game on the ground, good for No. 11 in the country.
Nebraska will be opening conference play against Illinois for the third consecutive season. The last time Nebraska opened conference play against the same opponent three consecutive seasons was a stretch of three straight wins vs. Missouri from 1999 to 2001.
Illinois comes into this game following a 27-25 victory over Middle Tennessee last Saturday. The Fighting Illini also feature an explosive offensive attack, averaging 404.8 total yards per game and 34.3 points per contest.
THE SERIES: Nebraska leads the series 9-2-1. The Huskers have knocked off Illinois in their league opener each of the past two seasons. Saturday's game in Champaign is the Huskers' first trip to Illinois as a Big ten member and their first overall at Illinois since 1985.
NEBRASKA’S INJURY LIST:
WHAT A WIN MEANS FOR NEBRASKA: The Huskers’ non-conference schedule didn’t exactly go as many expected, but the Big Ten West, the ultimate goal, is still intact. It’s a new season. Win the West and all critics of new head coach Mike Riley will be likely silent. Lose to Illinois and that goal of representing the division will be tough. Nebraska plays conference rival Wisconsin next week. The Huskers need a little momentum heading into that contest.
WHAT A WIN MEANS FOR ILLINOIS: Interim-HC Bull Cubit is trying to get the job permanently in Champaign. Getting back to a bowl game would be huge, but doing it will require a win or two that the Fighting Illini won’t likely be favored in. On paper right now, Nebraska appears one of those games.
WHO TO WATCH ON OFFENSE AND DEFENSE:
WR.) De’Mornay Pierson-El – After sitting out of the Huskers first four contests, how could we not put the wide receiver in this category? Pierson-El will likely be limited on Saturday. We don’t expect many offensive snaps, but it sounds like he will at least return a few punts. Will he be hesitant? Will he look like the same old DPE?
S.) Nate Gerry – The junior had a big game last year against Illinois, registering six tackles, an interception and two quarterback hurries. Gerry is coming off a performance he will likely want to forget. The South Dakota native only had three tackles last week after being under the weather during practices.
REASONS TO BE CONCERNED: Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt hasn’t put up the numbers that many expected, but he’s also been plagued with inconsistent wide receiver play. In their first four contests, Illini wide receivers have 26 drops. If they play at a high level, Lunt will likely have some success against Nebraska’s pass defense, which currently ranks last in the country.
DID YOU KNOW? In the 2011 Class 5A state title game against Joliet Catholic, Jordan Westerkamp had 12 catches for 353 yards and five touchdowns in a 70-45 victory. Overall, Westerkamp had nine touchdown catches in his three state championship games on Illinois’ field.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “We have been better on third-and-long than we have been on third-and-short. That doesn’t make any sense. That’s the reality of it, and I hate that. ‘Oh no, it’s third-and-one.’ (laughs)” – Nebraska HC Mike Riley
JOSH HARVEY’S PREDICTION: Lunt will hit on a few deep throw, keeping Illinois in the game, but Nebraska’s offense will be too much for a Fighting Illini defense that hasn’t seen a passing attack like Nebraska’s (sorry North Carolina). The Huskers will put points on the board and cover. Nebraska wins the game 37-28.
OTHER NEBRASKA PREDICTIONS:
Beth Long, Scout.com: Nebraska 28 Illinois 24
Joe Quinn, AM 590: Nebraska: 41 Illinois: 35
Matt Svoboda, BRR contributor: Nebraska: 38 Illinois: 27
Brett Edwards, KLKN-TV: Nebraska: 42 Illinois: 24
Peter Terpstra, KLKN-TV: Nebraska: 40 Illinois: 27
Andrew Ward, KLKN-TV: Nebraska: 45 Illinois: 28
HuskerMo, BRR poster: Nebraska: 34 Illinois: 27
OTHER BIG TEN GAMES OF NOTES:
(Michigan at Maryland, Minnesota at Northwestern, Iowa at Wisconsin)
Josh: Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa
Beth: Michigan, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Joe: Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa
Matt: Michigan, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Brett: Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin
Peter: Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa
Andrew: Michigan, Northwestern, Wisconsin
HuskerMo: Michigan, Northwestern, Wisconsin