Steve Sipple/LJS: Nebraska Offense will need to be clicking vs. MSU
Bring on Michigan State.
Bring on one of the Big Ten Conference's most important games of the season.
Bring on the type of game that could elevate Nebraska's football program.
If you're a Husker fan, do you say "Bring it on" haltingly?
Or with gusto?
You likely feel good about the Huskers' offense.
You feel OK about the defense.
You probably feel surprisingly satisfied with the special teams.
Bottom line, Nebraska is 5-0 (1-0 Big Ten) after Saturday night's 45-14 victory against a woebegone Illinois team playing without starting quarterback Wes Lunt because of a leg injury.
Lunt's replacement, senior Reilly O'Toole, won't ever be mistaken for Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook. And Illinois (3-2, 0-1) plays the sort of defense that reminds me of some of Woody Widenhofer's painfully slow teams at Missouri in the 1980s.
Ameer Abdullah ravaged Illinois with 208 yards on 22 carries before leaving for good early in the third quarter (he suffered a bruised knee but is fine, NU coach Bo Pelini said). Abdullah only enhanced his Heisman Trophy chances, though, let's face it, the Illini are the Bad News Bears when it comes to open-field tackling.
Nebraska junior Imani Cross also had a career night with 22 carries for 109 yards.
All in all, a Memorial Stadium crowd of 91,255 had to be pleased, if a bit bored at times, as Nebraska essentially did as expected despite Tommy Armstrong's subpar night as a passer (10-for-21 with an interception) and another slow start by the defense.
Even so, it's hard to be overly critical of a team that amassed 624 yards, including 458 on the ground, while holding Illinois to 339 total yards.
The Huskers’ Big Ten opener kicked off at 8:13 p.m. That’s not even a record for an NU slumber party — the 2008 Missouri game kicked off at 8:15 p.m.
We have TV, of course, to thank. The Big Ten Network made this game the anchor leg of a quadruple-header on Saturday. Then the Huskers went out and showed why they’re prime-time favorites, exploding for a 45-14 win.
What the BTN crew thought about the Huskers’ wardrobe might be another matter.
The Huskers’ alternative uniforms were a deep red, brick red, from helmets to jerseys to pants to shiny red shoes that glistened in gold.
The numbers were a shiny gray. Or, as one press wag called it, "duct tape."
Whatever. It made it hard to identify the players. Which, for some defensive players busting assignments, came in handy.
If I’m being polite, I’ll say these weren’t my style. If I’m not, well, they were hideous.
Don’t worry. This is not a column from the fine whine cellar, where my memories are all vintage 1983.
For one thing, this was an extreme night. The last three NU home games will likely be played in daylight. The traditional helmets and jerseys will return next week.
But if you don’t think these things will become more and more the norm, you’re not paying attention.
This isn’t my college football anymore. This isn’t the game I grew up on, where every game was 1:30 p.m., where you knew every college team by its consistent, easily identifiable uniforms and colors.
This was before TV and shoe corporations ruled the earth.
But that world is fading fast. It’s not my college football anymore, and it shouldn’t be.
The game has always evolved, and it usually has mirrored society. Now, that means more social media, more police blotters, more shiny helmets and now this idea about stipends and money.
Nebraska must evolve with it. Same with the Big Ten and its stodgy old image.
In 2011, State’s defense came to Lincoln eighth nationally in rush defense at 89 yards per game. NU grinded out 190 on 58 carries.
In 2012, the Spartans were giving up 91 yards per game, seventh nationally. Nebraska humiliated them, rolling up 313 yards on 40 carries. Taylor Martinez had 205.
Last year, Michigan State’s rush defense was No. 1 in the country, allowing 43 per game. Abdullah rushed for 123 and the Huskers had 182 on 32 carries.
The common thread: Even when it’s looked impossible to run against Michigan State, the Huskers have run against Michigan State. They’ll do it again with the nation’s best running back and a creative scheme.
But running likely won’t be enough to stay undefeated. Which brings us to the caveat.
The problem with pounding the ball is the quarterback sometimes feels a greater urge to maximize his passing attempts. After 10 rushes in the first 11 snaps, Armstrong scrambled and made an off-balance, late throw across his body and over the middle. That’s four no-nos in one play. Illinois’ T.J. Neal intercepted the pass.
Armstrong didn’t seem to see the field well Saturday night. He missed Jordan Westerkamp on a slant at the goal line, throwing incomplete to the corner instead.
Late in the second quarter, he missed a wide-open receiver over the middle (it looked like Alonzo Moore, but the jersey number was too hard to see). On the next play, Armstrong almost threw another interception when he should’ve settled for Abdullah on the check-down.
In the fourth quarter, his sideline check-down to Terrell Newby could’ve been a pick-six for Illinois.
It wasn’t all bad. Armstrong’s 63-yard bomb to Kenny Bell was as perfectly thrown as you’ll find. But No. 4 must be sharper in East Lansing.
The reason Scott Frost’s Oregon offense hung 46 on Michigan State wasn’t his running game. It was Marcus Mariota, the best quarterback in the country, who burned the Spartans for 19 yards per completion.
Does Nebraska have the quarterback to win?
Wes Lunt was a spectator on Saturday night. The Illinois quarterback missed the game with a right knee sprain, an injury he sustained against Texas State last Saturday. Reilly O’Toole filled in, but didn’t perform on a consistent enough level before getting hurt in the waning moments. Didn’t matter, though. Ameer Abdullah made his case again about why he should find himself in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy.
Matt Silich/The Champaign Room: Stop complaining for the sake of complaining.
The third quarter of Illinois' game against Nebraska has just ended as I type this, with the score Nebraska 38, Illinois 14.
What did you expect? The spread for this game was over 21 points just about everywhere, and that was before Illinois' most important offensive player, Wes Lunt, was held out of the game with an injury. Again, the spread was 21 points B-E-F-O-R-E Wes Lunt was ruled out of the game with what seems to be a minor leg issue. Without Lunt, that line probably jumps towards 30-35 points.
Given everything that has gone into this game, from the struggles through the first few weeks to the loss of Lunt, one might think that Illinois fans would react rationally and treat this game as a throwaway. Frankly, both the Illinois offense and defense were hung out to dry today. They were placed in front of the buzzsaw that is this Nebraska Cornhusker team, and they have reacted accordingly. The team has not played well, but why would anyone expect that from them?
My B1G rankings: 1. MSU 2. Neb 3. OSU 4. Wisc 5. Maryland 6. Minn 7. Iowa 8. PSU 9. Rutgers 10. IU 11. Illinois 12. NW 13. Pur 14. Michigan.— Sean Merriman (@BTNSean) September 28, 2014
Nebraska improved to 5-0 overall with tonight’s victory, marking the #Huskers first 5-0 start since the 2010 season.— Mike'l Severe (@MikelSevere) September 28, 2014
A legit big game week. A chance for the #Huskers to do two things not done in the Pelini era: Beat a Top 10 team on the road & get to 6-0.— Brian Christopherson (@HuskerExtraBC) September 28, 2014
I'm already a cubs fan, illini football, I don't need any more perennial mediocrity in my life #illini— A.G. Fish (@fishangelous) September 28, 2014
Two #4's pic.twitter.com/TKRiyJsJpu— Rick Kaczenski (@CoachKaz_NU) September 28, 2014