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Nebraska Football: Five Reasons The Huskers Will Defeat Illinois

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After a rocky non-conference schedule, Nebraska is looking to kick off Big Ten play with a win against Illinois. Here is why you should be optimistic.

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Many a fan has wondered how the Nebraska Cornhuskers will head West to defeat the Illinois Fighting Illini this coming Saturday to open Big Ten play.

Fortunately, I am here to calm the soul with my Five Reasons for victory!

Tommy Armstrong:

Tommy Armstrong Jr has been a mainstay on this list. He really is the main reason I see Nebraska winning this game. The jump from sophomore to junior year is where the most improvement generally happens; this seems to be true for Armstrong. Lets compare.

Through 4 Games 2014 2015
Yards

886 1,226
Touchdowns 9 11
Interceptions 2 5
Completion % 55.3% 58.9%

While the interception numbers are up, that is to be expected. Through four games Armstrong has attempted 151 passes and completed 89 passes. Compare that to just 94 attempts through his first four games last season. Throw in that two arguably three of the interceptions are not Armstrong’s fault, and the numbers begin to show how impressive his season has been.

If Illinois can’t contain this Nebraska passing game, and I can’t imagine they will, this could be a huge game for the Husker offense. I expect another 300 yard passing game from Armstrong with a couple touchdowns and his weekly interception.

Nebraska may have found a power-running game:

Think back to the 90’s (like Husker fans need an excuse to do so). Think of the triple option, the nasty running backs, and the fullbacks nobody wanted to attempt to tackle in fear for their life. Has that returned? No. But Nebraska fans got a flash from the past when Nebraska Fullback Andy Janovich busted open a 25 yard run. Janovich was running with attitude and was looking for contact. Something a certain Husker running back seems to be terrified of. On the game the Husker fullback tallied over 100 yards on 6 touches. If Nebraska can establish a power run game against Illinois, it will help this offense tremendously. We saw five field goals in the first half against Southern Miss. I expect Jano to get more touches in the red zone against Illinois, which should lead to six points rather than three.

Illinois’ record doesn’t tell the whole story:

Look at the records. Illinois looks like it is sitting pretty after a 3-1 non-conference record. Their record may be hiding some struggles this season. Game one they looked pretty darn good… against a pretty bad Kent State team. Sure Kent State only lost to Minnesota by three, but Minnesota is hilariously bad on offense, scoring once every 35 snaps. In game two Illinois beat up on Western Kentucky, another team that had no chance from the opening kick. Illinois is 2-0 and has caught some attention. Now is their chance to prove they are the real deal! Game three is when Illinois becomes Illinois. North Carolina ROLLED over the Illini. Illinois fell 48-14 and became who we always knew they were. Next up was Middle Tennessee State. A talented team sure, but a team Illinois should take care of. Illinois squeaked by with a 27-25 victory.

While Illinois has the better record, Husker fans should not read into it much. The Huskers are a more talented team who should take care of business on Saturday.

Nebraska's Defensive Line is improving:

Flash back to before the season. On paper the Husker defensive line looked like one of the best in the country. While they have been unreal against the run, the lack of a pass rush has been concerning. Since the insertion of Freedom Akinmoladun the Husker pass rush has improved drastically. Akinmoladun has tallied four sacks including two last week, one that was a potential game saver against Southern Miss. If Nebraska can establish a consistent pass rush, look for the passing defense to improve. The majority of Nebraska’s struggles this season are because of the pass defense. If there is ANY improvement in the pass defense Nebraska will have a real good chance to roll through Illinois.

The Return of DPE:

While not yet confirmed, it looks like De’Mornay Pierson-El could return in a limited roll this Saturday.

This is not a huge reason Nebraska is going to win, it is huge for the Husker offense. The addition of DPE adds another dimension to the offense that has been missing. Add in the special team implications and you have a new and improved team. He really is that explosive. If he is healthy all season Nebraska could very easily be 4-0 right now. This is probably a reason Nebraska could win next week against Wisconsin. Getting some live action under him before the Wisconsin game is huge. Even if DPE only plays a handful of snaps, he has the ability to get to the crib every time he touches the ball, and that is something Nebraska is sorely missing.

Nebraska is second in the country in plays of over 10 yards and ninth in plays of over 20 yards. After that, Nebraska does not rank in the top 60 in plays of 30,40, and 50 yards. The addition of Pierson-El could mean those 15 yard gains turn into 35 yard gains.

Last week I said there was no way the Huskers cover the spread against Southern Miss, this week I don’t see how Nebraska doesn’t cover the spread. I like the Huskers in this game by at least two touchdowns. Look for Tommy to have a big game and the Husker D-Line to get a lot of pressure on Wes Lunt.