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Corn Nation's Got Questions: Illinois Part "Q"

Q is for question. Every week we ask questions about the upcoming opponent. A few days after the game, we check back to see if we got answers. This week, the Fighting Illini have our attention.

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Ok folks, we have had a few days to come down from our fullback high. Life is good, isn't it Husker fans? I mean, the fullback trap is back; plus, we are running the dang ball on every play, the pipeline is imposing their will, and the Blackshirts are lockdown. I may have dreamed 3 out of 4 of those things, but I definitely put some ‘awake time' into these questions. OK, snarky-awake-time, but...I have been too serious up to this point and it is about time this feature goes off the rails. It was either that or I would have to start rhyming again!

Will the fullback be put back on the shelf?

After unleashing the fullback trap against a favorable defense, all of Nebraska is screaming for MOAR Janovich. Husker fans want to see this on Saturday:

It was not just the yardage and big plays (which have been absent in our offense despite their overall success) but it was seeing a runner break tackles. We expected Imani Cross to be that guy, but his limited touches have either not allowed him to get comfortable in this system or he simply is not that guy anymore. I have resigned myself to the idea that we may not see plays called for Janovich very much again this season (but hope I am wrong).

On the bright side, we might be one or two more groin injuries away from #AndyForLB. Based on an interview I heard earlier this week, that was apparently a possibility at some point under Pelini and Janovich said he would have been willing to make that switch. The thought of him using his superpowers to destroy opposing running backs brings a smile to my face - even if it is farfetched at this point.

Will Nebraska rise above the advanced Stats and beat the Illini? Should we have stayed in the Big 12?

SB Nation's own Bill Connelly's advanced stats profile favors Illinois, giving them a 63% chance to win. So does ESPN's FPI, giving the Illini a 50.3% chance to win. Yikes.

Ok, I admit it the answer to the second part of my question is going to be no regardless of how games turn out this weekend.  This was added purely because Texas is playing TCU, are 15 point underdogs and the schadenfreude over poor officiating aimed at the Longhorns is funny. I want TCU to give me an opportunity to pile on.

The pass defense has nowhere to go but up. Will it?

Every other Husker media outlet has written thousands of words on the pass defense, so I will simply put a few reasons here that I think they will get better:

  • We simply do not have the 128th ranked talent in the country. There are good players there, but the transition to yet another position coach and new scheme is causing more carnage than expected.

  • The defense overall is pretty good in the red zone ranking 31st in the country by allowing opponents to score on 76% of their red zone trips. The Huskers have given up 3 rush TD, 5 pass TD and 8 FG. When I scan teams ahead of Nebraska they tend to give up a much higher % of TDs compared to fields than the Huskers 50/50 ratio. The big problem here is that the Huskers have allowed 21 red zone trips for opponents. There are only 6-ish teams in the top 100 that have allowed 20 or more RZ trips. So, the Huskers give up a lot (A LOT) of big plays in the mid-field, but tighten it up near the end zone.

  • The defense overall also ranks pretty highly on 3rd down. They are #27 in the country and only allowed opponents to convert on 17 of 58 tries (29%).

  • We are entering Big Ten play. Sparty's QB, Connor Cook can definitely make this secondary look bad, but most people had that chalked up as a loss before the season started. This weekend's opponent, Wes Lunt, is capable, but he has a lot of receivers hurt. Joel Stave is having to carry the Wisconsin offense...LOL! #77 in pass offense. I don't even know who the QBs for NW, Purdue and Rutgers are, but only NW seems like a challenge out of those three (and just looked it up, they are 119th in the country in pass offense). Iowa's Beathard is playing well, but that game won't matter because Ferentz will just keep punting to DPE anyhow. OK, looked up Iowa and they are #57 in pass offense (just one spot ahead of Illinois but doing so on 58 fewer pass attempts) and Beathard has only thrown one INT in non-conference play.  He still has Greg Davis as his OC.

Reasons they might not pull it together:

  • Confidence and trust. Right now, these kids are shell-shocked and do not seem to trust themselves or their teammates to get the job done. These coaches have their work cut out for them. On the flip side, I bet Tommy is getting REALLY good at throwing fades in practice to give these DBs some chances to learn that technique.


What are your thoughts? Did I miss something? Did you have different questions? Tell me in the comments!