The Illini are in search of their first victory in Lincoln, Neb., since 1924 — in addition to revenge for final 12 months’s heartbreaking 42-38 loss to the Cornhuskers in Champaign — after they play at Nebraska for Saturday’s 11 a.m. kickoff. Beat author Colin Likas breaks down the matchups and offers all the knowledge it’s essential know.
THREE BIG STORYLINES
Who’s the person?
Quarterback Brandon Peters ought to go well with up for the Illini in his first sport since their season-opening Oct. 23 loss at Wisconsin. Illinois coach Lovie Smith wouldn’t tip his hand this week if Peters, who needed to miss the final three video games after a constructive COVID-19 check, would begin or if Isaiah Williams would.
Williams is recent off incomes Massive Ten Freshman of the Week honors after scampering for a program-record 192 dashing yards by a quarterback throughout final Saturday’s 23-20 win at Rutgers.
Whereas it’s not precisely clear what Illinois will do at quarterback to start out Saturday’s sport in opposition to the Cornhuskers, it seems Nebraska will depend on Luke McCaffrey below heart.
That is after Nebraska junior quarterback Adrian Martinez has piled up gaudy numbers every of the final two seasons in opposition to Illinois.
Martinez threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns and added 55 dashing yards and one rating as a freshman throughout Nebraska’s 54-35 dwelling win in opposition to Illinois in 2018. These statistics ballooned to 328 passing yards and three touchdowns together with 118 dashing yards final season throughout Nebraska’s 42-38 win in Champaign.
However Martinez is simply 24 of 42 for 230 passing yards in two video games this season with one interception and no touchdowns in two losses. He’s added 187 dashing yards on 26 carries, however Nebraska coach Scott Frost went with McCaffrey final Saturday in opposition to Penn State.
It labored, too, throughout the Cornhuskers’ 30-23 win. McCaffrey accomplished 13 of 21 passes for 152 yards, one landing and one interception to go along with a team-best 67 dashing yards and one rating.
“McCaffrey’s a wonderful soccer participant,” Smith mentioned. “He had the identical kind of impact that Isaiah had on our soccer crew this week. He can move the soccer. He’s good in area. Only a totally different dimension when you’ve got a man like that main their offense.”
An appropriate substitute
Junior linebacker Khalan Tolson was a little bit of a shock entry in Illinois’ beginning lineup final Saturday at Rutgers, regardless that he’d earned that responsibility primarily based on his play within the crew’s first three video games this season. His presence grew to become vital when Milo Eifler went down with an harm late within the last apply earlier than that sport.
Given his late inclusion as a starter, what Tolson produced within the 23-20 victory was spectacular. He racked up 10 tackles — rating behind solely fellow linebacker Jake Hansen‘s 15 — to go along with 21/2 tackles for loss and a compelled fumble.
“He did have a superb day. He’s been constant,” Smith mentioned. “We’ve requested him to play lots of positions whereas he’s been right here this 12 months. I noticed he was extra aggressive, extra bodily within the run this previous week.”
It’s not clear if Tolson once more will begin at Nebraska. However the 6-foot, 220-pound native of St. Petersburg, Fla., could have completely performed his manner into the on-field rotation, no matter Eifler’s restoration.
“My sport is enhancing week by week,” Tolson mentioned. “(Towards Rutgers) I used to be simply laying all of it on the road, simply enjoying soccer, having enjoyable.”
Staying in place
One Illini who appears firmly entrenched as a defensive starter is sophomore linebacker Tarique Barnes. Smith shifted Hansen from inside linebacker to exterior linebacker as a result of he wished to see what Barnes might do versus Rutgers. The consequence was a stable six tackles.
“We see the blokes, and lots of occasions in a distinct position earlier than they really begin enjoying, and also you just like the potential,” Smith mentioned, “however it’s essential see them in a sport. … I assumed he performed good for his first outing (as a starter).”
Barnes noticed ample time on particular groups final season, tying for the Illini lead in kickoff-return tackles and ranking second in punt-return tackles. Barnes mentioned these repetitions had been vital to him understanding the tempo of faculty soccer.
What additionally helps Barnes nowadays is suiting up alongside a standout defender like Hansen.
“Taking part in subsequent to him,” Barnes mentioned, “reveals you what degree it’s essential play at.”
TWO KEY MATCHUPS
Illinois defensive position vs. any Nebraska quarterback
Irrespective of whether or not Frost deploys Luke McCaffrey or Adrian Martinez — or each — the Illini entrance 4 must trigger disruption alongside the road of scrimmage.
The Cornhuskers’ offense has run roughshod over Illinois the final two seasons below Martinez, piling up 1,280 yards and 54 first downs.
Though defensive position stalwart Jamal Woods could miss his third consecutive sport with an harm, that unit might want to harass Nebraska’s quarterback if the Illini wish to finish a four-game dropping skid to the Cornhuskers.
“It’s on document what they’ve accomplished to us the final couple occasions we’ve performed them,” Lovie Smith mentioned. “We haven’t performed properly sufficient. … That’s why we’re anxious to see if we will sluggish them down just a bit bit greater than we have now up to now.”
Illinois move sport vs. Cam Taylor-Britt and Dicaprio Bootle
The Illini dashing sport acquired moving into an enormous manner final week, largely due to Isaiah Williams and Chase Brown. Illinois can’t flip away from that aspect of its offense after a lot success. Even so, it’s essential to ascertain the passing sport in opposition to Nebraska — particularly with Brandon Peters out there at quarterback.
Peters confirmed within the opener in opposition to Wisconsin that he can create together with his legs. However the Cornhuskers are permitting greater than 230 passing yards per sport and have permitted opposing quarterbacks to finish greater than 60 % of their throws.
Taylor-Britt, a junior, and Bootle, a senior, have loads of expertise amongst them. Josh Imatorbhebhe, Casey Washington and the opposite Illinois receivers will must be on their sport every time their numbers are known as.
“Going into Rutgers, you could possibly inform by our vitality that one thing was totally different,” Washington mentioned. “So simply going into that sport, I believe we had extra confidence in ourselves. … It’s a brand new sport, new crew, new opponent (this week), so we’ve simply acquired to do the identical factor.”
ONE STAT THAT MATTERS
The variety of turnovers Illinois has compelled in its final two video games in opposition to Nebraska. It might look like a stunning quantity, contemplating the Cornhuskers produced 96 factors throughout these two video games. The Illini nonetheless had the Lovie Ball side of their protection working, to an extent. It simply didn’t matter on the scoreboard. Illinois choosing off three Rutgers passes final week contributed considerably to its victory. The extra the Illini could make takeaways rely for one thing, the higher.
ILLINOIS WILL WIN IF …
… It could discover a steadiness between Brandon Peters and Isaiah Williams, getting the perfect of Peters’ throwing, Williams’ operating and somewhat little bit of the other from every man. Luke McCaffrey didn’t precisely shred Penn State’s protection, although he skilled success in opposition to it. Ought to the Illini protection preserve his numbers about the place they had been versus Penn State, it’d be an enormous step up from what they permitted to Adrian Martinez within the final two years.
NEBRASKA WILL WIN IF …
… McCaffrey is allowed to set the tone early and places Illinois able it’s frequently confronted this season: digging out of a gap. The Illini didn’t let Rutgers get too distant and had been in a position to rally because of this. If the Cornhuskers pull forward by two touchdowns or extra within the opening half, it’s no assure a potentially-rusty Peters and now-scouted Williams can carry them again — even when Illinois’ protection forces extra turnovers.
THE PICK …
Nebraska 17, Illinois 14
As Lovie Smith alluded to, these groups are considerably in the identical boat offensively — coming off a win guided by a youthful, dynamic quarterback after some struggles. There’s tape on each guys now, nevertheless, and it’s not as if both offense put up an outrageous level complete final week. This one comes right down to the defenses, and the Cornhuskers provide you with one additional cease.