This game was tougher than expected, but the Huskers showed that they don’t panic, even when they are down several players. Bye week will be welcome to get some guys healthy.
Illinois won the toss and deferred, giving Nebraska the ball to start the game.
Nebraska got the ball on their 25 to start the game, getting the first first down of the game on Tommy Armstrong to Brandon Reilly. It took five plays for Nebraska to cross midfield, doing so on a Armstrong QB sneak on their first 3rd down of the game. Nebraska lost Cethan Carter on a awkward tackle on the next play. Armstrong hits Stanley Morgan for a 1st down on the next 3rd down of the game, gaining 18 yards. After a incomplete post route to Bryan Reimers, TA moved into the red zone on a five wide QB draw, gaining 13 yards. Two plays later, Morgan with a man’s catch on the goal line, getting drilled when he caught the ball. After a penalty, Armstrong took it by himself for the first touchdown of the game.
The opening drive went 13 plays and 75 yards to make it 7-0 Nebraska.
Illinois got the ball back on a touchback to their own 25 yard line with 8:23 to go. Wes Lunt hit Malik Turner for 36 yards, but the play was nullified by a Gabe Megginson holding on Freedom. Didn’t matter though, as a personal foul by Josh Kalu when the Illini faced their first 3rd down of the game gifted Illinois the ball at midfield. Three plays later, FREEDOM STRUCK with the Huskers getting the sack on Lunt by Freedom to put the Illini back to punt. The Ryan Frain punt was fair caught by De’Mornay Pierson-El, starting the second Nebraska drive at the 14 yard line.
Nebraska took the ball back and got a first down, then after a nickel blitz taking out a QB lead around, TA found Devine Ozigbo on a screen that netted 37 yards & got the ball across the midfield line. Armstrong hit Brandon Reilly in the hands on the first down, but Brandon dropped a sure TD on the next play. Reilly did get back to it, taking a jet sweep from left to right and getting a first down inside the Illini 35 yard line. After a Ozigbo run and a pressure on TA causing an incompletion, 3rd and 5 from the Illini 29 yard line brought a flare to Newby that got a first down, but the play died on the Illegal Formation penalty. 3rd and 10 had TA hitting Reilly on a dig route for another 1st down, but Jordan Westerkamp got hit with offensive PI and dug the Huskers back even farther as the quarter ended.
The 2nd Q started with Nebraska facing 3rd and 25 from midfield. An Armstrong to Westerkamp screen got back 10 yards, and Mike Riley sent out Drew Brown for a 56 yard field goal. The kick was straight, but a couple yards short. The miss gave the ball to the Illini at the spot of the kick, which was the 46 yard line.
Illinois did move the ball off that spot, moving the ball into Nebraska territory with a first down on a 3rd and 9 toss from Lunt to Zach Grant toss. Three plays later on 3rd and 2 from the Neb 40, Lunt hit Turner on a bubble screen for the 1st down. Two plays later, Kendrick Foster took a handoff and went 31 yards around left tackle to tie the game at 7. That was Foster’s third TD run of the year. The Illini went 60 yards on 8 plays to tie the contest with 10:11 to go in the First Half.
Nebraska got the ball back with a hooked kickoff by Illinois Chase McLaughlin, getting the ball out on the 35 yard line. Da Huskers got the ball to midfield on another Armstrong QB sneak on 3rd and less than a foot. A beautiful throw on a bubble to Westerkamp snagged 21 yards, getting the Huskers to the Illini 32 yard line. However, on the tackle, Jordan was injured on the play. Two plays later, a jet sweep fake screen to Mikale Wilbon snagged 13 yards to put the Huskers in the red zone. Two plays and a holding call by Nick Gates that was declined brought up 4th down and 3 on the Illinois 12 yard line. Drew Brown came in and split the pipes from 29 yards out to make it 10-7 Nebraska with 5:59 to go in the half. The scoring drive was 10 plays and 53 yards.
Illinois took the ball over once again on the touchback. It took all of three plays for the Illini to get across midfield on one throw and 2 runs, taking one more toss to the TE to get in the red zone. Illinois put in Chayce Crouch at QB, and he got Turner with some bad Nebraska tackling to get inside the Huskers 5 yard line. Lunt came back in after a delay of game penalty, only to waste 2 plays on a (what looked like) a RB throwing play and a throw away. 3rd and goal from the Neb 10 yard line brought Lunt hitting Justin Hardee, putting it 4th down and goal from the Neb 6 yard line. After Illinois churned the clock down and called Timeout, McLaughlin came in and hit the 24 yard field goal to tie the game at 10 with 1:01 to go in the first half.
Tre Bryant took the Illini kick back to the 30 yard line, giving Nebraska 2 timeouts and 54 seconds to do something. The first play was a dandy 6 route from Armstrong to Westerkamp, putting the ball at the Nebraska 42 yard line. But, on the next play, Armstrong got greedy and was intercepted by the Illini’s Daruis Mosley, who took it back to Nebraska territory.
Wes Lunt scrambled on the first play of the drive, getting inside the Nebraska 35 yard line. A toss from Lunt to Corbin got the ball to the Nebraska 25, with the Illini letting the clock go down to 2 seconds. McLaughlin came in and took the lead on Nebraska with a 42 yard FG as the clock expired. Nebraska 10, Illinois 13.
Some notes from the first half:
* Place-kicker Drew Brown missed a 56-yard field goal in the second quarter, ending his streak of 13 consecutive field goals made. Brown did connect on a 29-yard field goal in the second quarter, marking his 38th career made field goal.
* Nebraska senior tight end Cethan Carter caught one pass before leaving the game with an injury. The catch was the 50th of Carter’s career, making him the eighth NU tight end with 50 career receptions.
* Senior receiver Jordan Westerkamp had three receptions in the first half, marking his 31st consecutive game with at least one reception. Westerkamp now has 141 career receptions, two shy of Johnny Rodgers for third on the NU career chart.
* Nebraska trails at the half for the first time this season.
Jill is taking over the second half recap. I will try to keep the ranting to a minimum.
This first half was an ugly effort outside of that first drive. This team is making the Illini look like a competent Big Ten team. That is not a good thing. When you let teams hang around, they get more confident than they should. The Huskers need the Blackshirts to step up and make some plays to put doubt back in the minds of the orange and blue.
Illinois received the second half kickoff and was stuffed at the 16. They proceeded to go backward and the Blackshirts forced a 3-and-out.
The special teams kept a ring from forming around De’Mornay Pierson-El and he rewarded the favor with a nice punt return. The Huskers set up shop at the Illini 30.
Newby got a 5 yard gain on first down, and then on second and 5, the pocket broke down (again). Tommy launched a YOLO ball that mercifully fell incomplete. He immediately followed it up with an under-pressure, “you got to be kidding” completion to Sam Cotton for the first down. A QB keeper lost three and set up 2nd and 13 at the 20. Wilbon got the yardage back but fumbled the ball and it was recovered by Illinois.
Wes Lunt did a great “good Tommy” impression by finding receivers for long gains. Flashbacks of 2015 were hitting Nebraska fans again, especially as Reggie Corbin nearly broke a run to the end zone, only being brought down by Josh Kalu in the open field. The “big play” was back in the Blackshirt repertoire, and not in a good way. Lovie Smith’s staff was calling a great game, keeping Nebraska off balance on both sides of the ball.
On 3rd and 5 at the 10, Lunt launched one for the end zone, but Dedrick Young knocked the ball away to force the field. goal. The Illini took a delay of game to move it out to a 33-yarder. The try was good.
Illinois 16 Nebraska 10
The kickoff was downed in the end zone. Nebraska took over at the 25.
After a couple of short gains, Westerkamp made the catch for the first down but took a knee in the back and went down in a great deal of pain. He had already been to the locker room once for x-rays on his ankle/foot and was moving gingerly already.
Langsdorf dialed up more Ozigbo and then Pierson-El made a Westerkamp-ish catch on the slant for a first down. Sideline shots of Jordan showed a player who continued to be in a lot of pain.
Two poor run plays put the Huskers in 3rd and 12. The next play looked like a busted play as Tommy broke the pocket, but the Illinois defender horse-collared Tommy and the Huskers were awarded the first down. Seeing your QB pulled down that awkwardly makes the first down seem less significant, but Tommy seemed OK.
The drive stalled, but Riley elected to go for it on 4th and 4. The pass was batted away, but a ticky tacky (in my opinion) pass interference call gave the Huskers the first down. The Illinois defense was feeling their oats even with the Huskers continuing to move the ball down field. That ended the 3rd quarter. Illinois 16 Nebraska 10.
The first play of the quarter was a pass to Stanley Morgan. Stanley stretched to baaaarely get the first down. The ball came loose, but the officials (rightly) ruled he was down before the ball came out. Number 8 deserves some big kudos for that play.
With Ozigbo having limped to the sideline earlier and a Wilbon fumble, Terrell Newby was the workhorse in the red zone. On 3rd and two at the 4 yard line, the option only picked up one. Riley went for it with a jumbo package. It looked incredibly close, and they converted by the skin of their teeth. First and goal Nebraska.
Lovie Smith took a timeout and the play was reviewed. The play was upheld. Illinois was given their timeout back because the booth buzzed for the review before the timeout was taken.
On the next play, Terrell Newby found paydirt. Touchdown Huskers! The PAT was good.
Nebraska 17 Illinois 16
The kickoff went through the end zone and the Illini started at their 25. Aaron Williams knocked down a pass to force a 3-and-out. DPE provided a 13 yard return to set up the Huskers at their 41.
Terrell Newby carried for four straight times followed by a QB sneak by Tommy convert two first downs. Give the big guys up front credit, I had been saying mean things about them in the CN staff chat room just a few minutes prior, but they were bulldozing their way down the field. More runs followed by a screen to Newby set the Huskers up first and goal. A couple of Newby runs did not gain much and the Huskers were at 3rd and goal (at the six). The pass to tight end Trey Foster had me yelling “who is that?!?” Touchdown Nebraska!! The PAT was good.
Nebraska 24 Illinois 16
The Illini kneeled the kickoff in the end zone and started their drive at the 25. The Blackshirts forced a 3-and-out and the Illini punted on 4th and 1. DPE had no room and was spun down at the 30.
At this point, I was happy the Huskers were running the ball well, but curious why Tommy was not part of the running game.
Terrell Newby continued to carry the ball with under 3 minutes in the game. On the second play of the drive, Newby found a hole and nothing but green grass in front of him. TOUCHDOWN NEBRASKA!!! PAT was good.
Nebraska 31 Illinois 16
With 2 minutes left in the game, the Illini brought the kickoff out to the 28.
Lunt was forced to sling it around and took a shot, getting up slowly, on a pass that was nearly intercepted. Illinois still had all 3 timeouts but was not using them. The Blackshirts forced 4th and 6 at the 32. The swing pass was dropped for a loss by Josh Kalu and the Huskers took over on downs. “Let Me Clear My Throat” played in the stadium.
The first down run by Newby went for very little, but Illinois did not use their timeouts. The Huskers went to victory formation and that was the ball game.
Nebraska 31 Illinois 16
I was impressed with how the coaches and team responded when it seemed like things were unraveling. The offensive line found some new life, Terrell Newby hung onto the ball and the Blackshirts locked down the visitors. I for one welcome our new nerves-of-steel overlords.
Go Big Red!