The Nebraska pass defense:
For those of you who read my "5 Reasons Nebraska Will Win" article, I said Tommy Armstrong has been a mainstay on that list. Well, the Nebraska passing defense will be a mainstay on this list until it shows some signs of improvement. By now I don’t need to tell you where the Huskers rank. Three of Nebraska’s four opponents have had their best passing games of the season versus the Husker secondary. (BYU is the only team who hasn’t with the injury to Taysom Hill) If the Husker secondary does not show signs of improvement, look for another close game with Illinois in it until the end.
The Illinois defense has been pretty good:
While Illinois has not played the greatest competition, the Illini defense has been a top 25 unit thus far. Illinois is giving up just over 300 yards per game, and 4.4 yards per play, both of which rank in the top 25. The Illini have been better against the rush, giving up 110 yards per game which ranks 27th nationally. Against the pass the Illinois defense has been slightly worse, giving up 195 yards per game which ranks 46th nationally. While Illinois has not seen a passing attack like Nebraska, their defense has talent on it. If they are able to get to Tommy in the backfield and shut down the Huskers running game, it could be a long day for Nebraska.
Illinois has a balanced offense:
There is no real glaring weakness in the Illinois offense. At the same time, there is no real strength. The offensive line play has been pretty good, allowing just three sacks this year. Illinois also ranks in the top 30 nationally in tackles for loss allowed with just 17 on the season. Illinois ranks near the middle nationally in both rush yards per game and passing yards per game. If Illinois is able to control the ball and keep it out of Nebraska's offense’s hands, look for this game to be close throughout.
The Illinois defense knows how to get off the field:
Illinois ranks 6th in the country in third down defense with opponents converting just over 21% of tries. (13 for 61) On the other side of the ball, Nebraska has converted just 41% of its third downs on the season which ranks 61st in the country. If Nebraska continues to struggle on third downs look for the Illinois offense to wear down the Husker defense. Nebraska converted just 4 of 13 third downs last week against Southern Miss, and not only did it show on the offensive side of the ball, it showed on the defensive side of the ball for Nebraska. The best way to improve the pass defense may be to keep them off of the field. If Illinois can shut down Nebraska on third down and can tire out the Nebraska defense they have a real shot in this one.
The Illinois defense is led by safety Clayton Fejedelem. On the season Fejedelem has 38 tackles and one tackle for loss. He is averaging nearly 10 tackles per game and has found a home in this Illinois secondary. The game plan for Nebraska has been to air it out with Tommy Armstrong. That won’t change this week. Nebraska has thrived in throws of 10-20 yards this season, and Fejedelem will have to send a message to the Husker wide receivers early in the game. That is a message he is more than capable of delivering, standing at 6-1 and weighing 200 pounds. Look for Fejedelem to be flying around the field early and often. If he is able to help contain this Nebraska passing attack and come up with some big plays look for this to be a tightly contested matchup