Nebraska on Scout talked with Illini Insider Jeremy Werner to discuss this weekend's matchup between Nebraska and Illinois.
1.) How big was the week off before entering Big Ten play for this team when you consider a new coaching staff at the helm? I'm sure it was nice for them to reset?
"That depends on whether you think it's best the reset, re-evaluate and reload or just to move on quickly. The loss to North Carolina was a disappointment because, riding the excitement of the Lovie Smith hire, Illinois had its first sell-out in five years. But the 48-23 loss reminded fans that this is going to take some time. A 34-10 loss to a really good MAC team Western Michigan -- but a MAC team, regardless -- was a reminder that the current roster has huge issues.
The team spent the week getting back to the basics, including some physical live tackling last week.This team also has played undisciplined, sloppy football -- which Illini fans assumed would be a thing of the past given this staff's NFL experience. The team is transitioning to new schemes, but needs to clean up the self-inflicted wounds. This team has some NFL talent but no depth which limits their ceiling. They need to cut out costly penalties, costly turnovers and costly missed assignments if they're going to have a chance to win a few games against opponents like Nebraska.
The best part of the bye week was the staff was able to go on the road recruiting, including Lovie for the first time. This team needs an infusion of talent and is off to a solid start in recruiting. The bye week also allowed them to heal a bit, including starting guard Gabe Megginson and punter Ryan Frain.
2.) Wes Lunt is hitting on 62 percent of his throws and at this point has only given up one interception - an area where the Blackshirts have excelled. How would you evaluate Lunt's play so far?
"The Illini need senior quarterback Wes Lunt to be special to be successful, and he hasn't been. Lunt has a big arm, is really intelligent and doesn't have much help around him, but Lovie and offensive coordinator Garrick McGee both have publicly offered constructive criticism of Lunt -- who many compare to Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, due to his demeanor -- asking for the pocket passer (who is a statue in the pocket) to be tougher, show more passion and lift those around him. Personally, I think Lunt could be successful in the right environment. I just don't think Illinois -- which can't protect him, doesn't run the ball well and doesn't have receivers who can get open consistently -- provides that environment. But the coaches are urging Lunt, who was told to be cautious by the previous staff, to be more aggressive, take more risks and push the ball down the field."
3.) When looking at the numbers, no one player is really standing out on offense for Illinois? Malik Turner has 15 catches in three games, but beyond that everyone is getting involved. Who is a player Nebraska fans should worry about on O?
"Illinois coaches want to be a running football team. But they don't have one. It all starts with struggles up front. Illinois doesn't have a physical offensive line and they've already started three different offensive line groups due to injury. Their best five should be available at Nebraska, but they still haven't proven they can consistently run against Big Ten defenses. Sophomore Ke'Shawn Vaughn has NFL potential as an all-around back, and junior Kendrick Foster has shown some speed but they haven't had much room to run."
4.) Defensively what are your biggest concerns regarding the Illini after three games?
"The Illini are a premier pass rushing team. They're tied atop the FBS in sacks per game and tackles for loss per game. It all starts with Dawuane Smoot, a likely first- or second-round draft pick who has great strength and burst. Senior Carroll Phillips also has emerged as a big-time edge rusher, who leads the nation in tackles for loss per game. Grad transfer Hardy Nickerson is one of the best middle linebackers in the conference, but the Illini have issues everywhere else. This team hasn't been able to stop the run for four years, and UNC and Western Michigan ran all over them earlier this month. The secondary is really inexperienced. This team has missed too many gap assignments (especially against the zone-read option) and given up too many big plays. Heading into a game against Tommy Armstrong Jr., those are all huge concerns."
5.) What will happen on Saturday and your score prediction?
"The Big Ten hasn't done the Illini any favors with having to start conference play in Lincoln three out of four years. The Cornhuskers won the last two by an average of 25.5 points -- and this one probably won't be much different. Despite last year's win over Nebrasa at Memorial Stadium (Illinois), I just think this is a bad matchup for the Illini. It's all about Armstrong. Illinois struggled to contain the zone-read option against North Carolina and Western Michigan and neither quarterback is as dangerous a runner as Armstrong. That running ability should help slow the Illini's strength, the pass rush, as well. If Armstrong makes mistakes like he did last year, Illinois may have a chance. But the offense hasn't shown the ability to make enough game-breaking plays to keep up with the Huskers."
Nebraska 38, Illinois 13