Game On: A closer look at how the Huskers and Illini match up
HOW THE HUSKERS LIGHT UP THE SCOREBOARD
1. Start fast. The Illini played better last week, but this defense gave up 700-plus yards and 63 points to Maryland two weeks ago. If the Huskers start fast, they may not stop racking up yards and points.
2. Get chunks. Nebraska’s been very good in the big-play department. Its 10 “chunk” plays — rushes of 10-plus yards and passes of 15-plus — against Ohio State was the second-lowest single-game total of the season.
3. Ground and pound. Illinois’ rush defense is dead last in the Big Ten at 240.3 yards per game (5.7 per carry) allowed. Devine Ozigbo, Maurice Washington and Adrian Martinez are capable of going off in a big way.
4. Look it in. NU was really close to several more big plays against the Buckeyes but came up short thanks either to drops or near misses. If the Huskers clean up in that department, there are big plays out there for the taking.
HOW THE BLACKSHIRTS SHUT ’EM DOWN
1. Contain Corbin. Illinois junior running back Reggie Corbin is enjoying a breakout season with 952 rushing yards at a whopping 9.1 per carry. He’s scored nine times and in the past two weeks alone has scores of 80, 77 and 72. He’s legit. The Huskers can’t afford to let him run wild at Memorial Stadium.
2. Friend now foe. It’s been an A.J. Bush love fest this week as several Huskers recalled their former teammate fondly. But they have to try to keep the big athlete and starting UI quarterback from getting in too much of a rhythm. Lamar Jackson said he’s itching to pick Bush off and Mohamed Barry said he’d love the chance to put a big hit on him.
3. Turnover chain reaction. Nebraska’s forced seven turnovers the past three weeks after six in the first six games. This one isn’t complicated: Keep the turnovers coming, and the Huskers will be in good shape.
4. Stout in the red zone. NU’s been decent in the red zone — opponents are scoring on 82.9 percent of possessions, which is sixth in the Big Ten — but has allowed a league-high 16 rushing touchdowns from the area. Conversely, they have a league-best four red zone interceptions. Illinois might move the ball some, but field goals won’t beat the Huskers.
THREE NUMBERS TO KNOW
24.2: First downs per game for the Huskers, second-best in the Big Ten behind Ohio State. NU had 27 against the Buckeyes last weekend.
6: Straight games with at least 450 total offensive yards for the Huskers, tied for the longest streak in school history.
300.3: Total offensive yards per game for freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez, No. 18 in the country and second nationally among freshman behind only Texas Tech quarterback Alan Bowman.
UNDER THE RADAR
RG, No. 56, so.: Wilson has provided a big dose of consistency since he joined the starting lineup in September. He’s not the biggest guy at 6-foot-3 and 305 pounds, but he mostly gets the job done. Wilson has a knack for positioning himself and using natural leverage to help the NU running backs.
S, No. 41, so: Williams just has a knack for making big plays. He’s tied for the team lead in interceptions and he forced a fumble against Ohio State, though, the Huskers did not recover it. Williams plays fast, hits hard and is likely to see extensive action in NU’s final three games.
Illinois quarterback A.J. Bush against Nebraska inside linebacker Mohamed Barry
It will be fun to watch the friends and former teammates get after it. Barry said that Bush, a fellow Georgia native, was his host when he officially visited Lincoln as a recruit and was a big part of the reason he decided to come to Nebraska. How many times will their paths cross Saturday? Barry hopes its several.
Nebraska’s running game against Illinois’ running defense
The Huskers average 5.3 per carry and the Illini give up 5.7 per carry. Last year, Devine Ozigbo finished off an NU win with a powerful fourth quarter in his first extensive action of the season. Now he’s the featured back in a spread offense. My, how times change. UI’s given up 200-plus five times and 357 or more on three occasions. Nebraska should feast on the ground.
Nebraska 49, Illinois 28
There is some pressure on Nebraska to continue its forward march. There’s no way to do that this weekend without winning, which hasn’t always been the case this fall.
As the Huskers have picked up some steam, though, they haven’t overlooked anybody. Not Minnesota. Not Bethune-Cookman. The bet here is that Scott Frost’s team stays dialed in. Illinois has some big-play threats and may move the ball, but Nebraska’s offense should be among the best the Illini have seen this year. Lovie Smith’s young team just doesn’t have the capability at this point to slow down the Huskers.