Nebraska (2-1) will kick off Big Ten conference play this weekend when it takes on Illinois (2-1). The Huskers are coming off a dominating 44-8 victory over Northern Illinois while the Fighting Illini enter the game after a disappointing loss to Eastern Michigan 34-31.
Here are four Illinois players to watch:
Brandon Peters, QB
Michigan graduate transfer Brandon Peters was named the new starting quarterback for Illinois in the offseason. That choice sent Illinois’s offense in a new direction.
Last year, Illinois had a dual-threat quarterback in A.J. Bush and ran more of an option offense. Peters is a traditional pocket passer which has changed the look of Illinois’s offense into more of a pro-style offense. This switch has paid dividends so far as Peters has performed well and sits at seventh in the FBS in touchdown passes with nine.
Through his first three games with the Illini, Peters has thrown for 687 yards with a 63.2% completion rate and nine touchdowns compared to only two interceptions. The addition of Peters has been a plus for Illinois as it has some talented wide receivers who can play more of a part in the offense now that there is a better passing quarterback. While the Huskers have excelled at forcing turnovers, particularly interceptions, it may be tougher on Saturday with Peters at quarterback.
Reggie Corbin, RB
The Husker defense has shut down a pair of good Group of Five running backs to start the season. This week will be their toughest test yet as running back Reggie Corbin is one of the best running backs in the Big Ten.
Last season, Corbin rushed for 1,085 yards on 128 carries and scored nine touchdowns. Nebraska did a good job slowing Corbin down last season as he was held to just 59 yards on nine carries in its matchup with Illinois.
This season, Corbin has been dealing with some injuries as he missed the Illini’s game against Connecticut in week two. He came back strong last week as he ran for 144 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown. The Husker defense has excelled so far this season at stopping the run and will need to do so this weekend if they want to stop Corbin from having a big day.
Oluwole Betiku Jr., DE
One of the weaknesses for the Husker offense is pass protection. So far the offensive line has given up eight sacks through three games, good for 11th in the Big Ten. USC transfer defensive end Oluwole Betiku Jr. has dominated opposing offensive lines so far, registering six sacks on the season.
For reference, the Huskers had no players with six sacks last season. Most of these sacks came in the game against Connecticut where Betiku Jr. had 3 ½ sacks, which were all four of his tackles. His six sacks and 7 ½ tackles for a loss are both FBS-best marks. This production is surprising as he did not play much while at USC last season.
This matchup comes at a poor time for the Huskers as starting left tackle Brenden Jaimes is dealing with an ankle injury suffered in the Northern Illinois game. If Jaimes can’t go it will be up to sophomore Broc Bando to slow down Betiku Jr., which is a tough ask for an underclassmen in his first start.
Dele Harding, LB
Senior linebacker Dele Harding is one of the leaders on the Illinois defense and will be tough for the Huskers to deal with. He is coming off one of his best games of his career as he had 17 tackles last week. That adds up to a total of 30 tackles so far this season for Harding.
Harding had a big game last year against Nebraska with six tackles and a forced fumble. He will be a big part of the Illini’s game plan to stop the Husker running attack, so it will be important to play around where he is on the field.