Nebraska vs Illinois preview

Jacob Bova, Senior Sports Editor: Nebraska 31, Illinois 17

It’s been almost two years since the Huskers have won a game on the road. They will attempt to break that streak this weekend and I think they will, although it will be tougher than it should be.

The Huskers are better than Illinois. They have the better players, they have better coaches and they have more momentum after Illinois lost last week to Eastern Michigan. That being said, this game will be tougher than it needs to be for a few reasons, the first being that this team hasn’t won on the road in a while. It may not sound like a big deal, but closing out teams on the road is hard to do — just look at what happened two weeks ago.

Another reason is because one of Illinois’ strengths coincides with a Husker weakness. The Illini pass rush has been nothing short of excellent so far this season, led by defensive end Oluwole Betiku Jr. who leads the country in sacks. The Huskers’ offensive line is a little beat up at the moment as left tackle Brenden Jaimes went down with an injury last week and is questionable for Saturday’s showdown. While sophomore backup Broc Bando looked fine when called upon, he will have his hands full dealing with Betiku Jr.

The other matchup to watch will be the Husker run defense against Illini running back Reggie Corbin. The Husker run defense has not allowed a team to run for more than 100 yards this season, although this will likely change after Saturday’s game.

I think in the end, the Husker defense will do just enough to contain Corbin and give the Husker offense time to figure out the Illini defense. While it may be close at halftime, the Huskers should pull away in the second half for a comfortable road win.

Luke Mullin, Assistant Sports Editor: Nebraska 37, Illinois 26

Well, here we go again. It’s time for a Husker road game, and it’s finally time for Nebraska to do what it couldn’t do in its past eight attempts — win. Those games have ranged from blowouts (Michigan) to heartbreaking collapses (Northwestern), but there’s been one common aspect: an inability to finish.

It’s likely the streak will end this week. After all, the Huskers are going up against Illinois, a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2011. Nebraska may have stomped the Illini 54-35 last year, but a much-improved Illini defense will keep the Huskers in check. Likewise, Nebraska’s defense is off to its best start in years, with a nationally ranked rush defense and a propensity for forcing turnovers.

While much of the attention should focus on Corbin, Illini quarterback Brandon Peters is off to a tremendous start. The transfer from Michigan has a higher completion percentage than sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez thus far, with nine touchdowns and just two interceptions to his name.

Martinez was a mixed bag in his road performances last year, with stellar showings against Ohio State and Iowa, but had disappointing outings against Michigan and Northwestern. He bounced back from a slow start to the season with a strong showing last week and a similar performance should give Nebraska the edge it needs.

Drake Keeler, Assistant Sports Editor: Nebraska 41, Illinois 20

To be taken seriously as a contender in the Big Ten West, the Huskers are going to have to start winning road games. Nebraska went 0-5 on the road last year, but four of those five games came against opponents that finished 2018 ranked in the top 25, with Wisconsin being the lone exception. The Huskers have started poorly on the road this year as well, inexplicably blowing a 17-0 lead at Colorado. 

However, Illinois is nowhere near the quality of Nebraska’s previous road opponents, and that’s why the Huskers should be able to start off conference play with a win. The Fighting Illini haven’t looked impressive so far this year, squeezing out a 31-23 win over Connecticut in week two and falling to Eastern Michigan 34-31 last week. 

Last year, the Husker offense had a field day against Illinois’ defense, finishing the game with 606 total yards in a 54-35 victory. Nebraska was dominant on the ground, rushing for 316 yards. This time around, Illinois seems to have improved its rush defense, as the Illini rank No. 17 in the country with just 79.3 yards given up on the ground per game. Nebraska won’t put up the same numbers it did last year offensively, but it will likely find success once again.

Illinois will also have a different challenge on the ground this year. Last year, the Illini rushed for 383 yards on the Nebraska defense, but 187 of those yards came from quarterback A.J. Bush, who has since graduated. Corbin, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2018, will likely play a bigger role this time after having just nine carries for 59 yards in last season’s matchup. 

Nebraska’s defense has improved too, with the Blackshirts ranking No. 20 in the country in rush defense. The Huskers haven’t allowed a team to rush for over 100 yards this year, much less the nearly 400 yards they gave up last year. 

The Blackshirts will also look to continue the trend of forcing turnovers. In three games, Illinois has turned the ball over five times. In that same span, the Huskers have forced nine turnovers. If those trends continue, it will make things a lot easier for the Nebraska offense. 

This game will be important for Nebraska to prove it can win on the road and compete with other Big Ten teams. On Saturday, the Huskers will do both and cruise to a comfortable win.

sports@dailynebraskan.com