Grades: Nebraska 54, Illinois 35
RUNNING GAME (A)
Even against a bad defense, you have to say Devine Ozigbo’s 66- and 60-yard touchdown runs were impressive displays of powerful running. On the 66-yarder, he powered through the first level and ran away from defensive backs. Adrian Martinez, as he did against Ohio State, established himself immediately in the run game with gains of 8 and 30 on the opening touchdown drive. Ozigbo, though, carried the heaviest load, finishing with 162 yards on only 11 carries.
PASSING GAME (B)
Martinez found Stanley Morgan wide open for a 37-yard touchdown pass to begin the scoring. Later in the first quarter, the pair hooked up on a 32-yard TD pass that Morgan hauled in over his shoulder. But Martinez misfired a few passes to open receivers. He was less than his best but still put up excellent numbers — 24-for-34 for 290 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception.
AGAINST THE RUN (D)
Illinois broke from the gate quickly with an eight-play, 76-yard touchdown drive, running the ball seven times during the march. Nebraska caught a break when running back Reggie Corbin left the game with 5:25 left in the first half with an injury. But quarterback AJ Bush was a handful, rushing 25 times for 187 yards and three TDs. The Illini ended up averaging 7.8 yards per rush. On the bright side for the Blackshirts, JoJo Domann’s recovery of Bush’s second-quarter fumble came as Illinois moved deep into NU territory.
AGAINST THE PASS (B)
Senior safety Aaron Williams got a gift of an interception when Bush’s pass went through the hands of Dominic Stampley into Williams’ mitts. Bush was just 11-for-25 for 126 yards. He was sacked three times.
SPECIAL TEAMS (A)
Lots of highlights here, led by Marquel Dismuke’s blocked punt for a safety in the fourth quarter. In addition, long-snapper Chase Urbach recovered Illinois’ muffed punt in the second quarter, leading to a field goal, before Jeramiah Stovall recovered another muff later in the quarter, leading to a touchdown. Barret Pickering handled the kickoffs (in place of Caleb Lightbourn) with no major problems. On the down side, Maurice Washington was tackled at the 11 on Nebraska’s first attempt at a kickoff return.
GAME MANAGEMENT (C)
Senior offensive guard Jerald Foster’s holding negated a third-down conversion in the second quarter. He was whistled again for the same infraction on the same drive as NU had to settle for a field goal. Mohamed Barry’s horse-collar tackle tacked on 15 yards as Illinois marched into NU territory in the second quarter. Dicaprio Bootle’s pass interference helped set up a TD late in the first half. All told, the Huskers were flagged seven times for 72 yards.
The quarterback draw on third-and-15 at Illinois’ 18 in the second quarter was a bit conservative. But Nebraska twice converted fourth-and-3s in the third quarter, the first via a Martinez draw and the second with a completion on an inside slant to Stanley Morgan. If that weren’t enough, Martinez gunned a 20-yard completion to JD Spielman on fourth-and-9 on the same drive. Good work all around.
I contemplated an “A,” but there was plenty to nitpick — most notably Illinois going 9-for-15 on third- and fourth-down conversions. On the other hand, Nebraska averaged 8.9 yards per play. Wow.