Game replay: Nebraska 54, Illinois 35
LINCOLN — Four keys from Nebraska’s 54-35 win over Illinois on Saturday, including a peculiar play, a questionable call and more.
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Illinois had a third-and-4 at the Nebraska 14. Quarterback AJ Bush took the snap, but his offensive line didn’t move — on purpose. Bush rolled to his right and threw to receiver Sam Mays, who caught the ball with half a toe out of bounds. The pass was ruled incomplete, but NU cornerback Dicaprio Bootle was flagged for pass interference. Illinois scored on the next play. Alongside Illinois’ two muffed punts — both recovered by the Huskers — it was a strange first half. In the second half, Illinois defensive back Tony Adams grabbed an interception off the foot of his teammate, Jartavius Martin, who had kicked the ball up in the air to Adams.
On Illinois’ first drive, the Huskers had the Illini in a third-and-7 at the NU 11. Nebraska brought heavy pressure against Bush, who danced out of the tackle by Dedrick Young and into the end zone for a touchdown. Bush had completed three red zone passes this season . Why not make him complete a pass into coverage instead of creating a scramble opportunity? Nebraska did the same thing on Illinois’ third drive of the game, and Bush ran for 23 yards right through the pressure.
Nebraska’s defense is probably fortunate it hasn’t faced more teams this season that rightly realized they could line up and run right at the Huskers. Illinois’ spread option run game was hardly fancy, but it racked up 383 rushing yards as NU’s defensive linemen were consistently pushed back while linebackers and safeties were only so-so tackling in space. Nebraska’s run defense has been a problem since joining the Big Ten, and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander hasn’t fixed the leaks yet. Perhaps the biggest concern was watching Bush weave his way through traffic like he was a punt returner and Nebraska’s defenders were on skates. Bush is a good runner, but he’s not 187 rushing yards good. That’s proof Nebraska is in sore need of more guys who can pursue and tackle.
On a day when it’s not fun to catch the ball, Nebraska’s receivers did a more-than-capable job of holding on to it. Stanley Morgan (8 catches, 131 yards) and JD Spielman (7 catches, 71 yards) were open up the seam most of the day, but they still absorbed more than a few big hits from Illinois defenders and held on to the ball.