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Report Card: Huskers 28, Illinois Fighting Illini 6

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Whether it’s a preference for Fridays or white jerseys, or if Tanner Lee just finally figured things out, the Nebraska quarterback was much improved this week.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Illinois
Maybe it’s because Tanner Lee likes throwing the ball to the white jerseys.
Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

In this week’s predictions, I jokingly suggested that maybe Tanner Lee just hates Saturdays. How else could you explain how a quarterback could impress so many people every other day of the week, yet underperform in games?

Friday night in Champaign, Lee played like the quarterback that experts said he was. Maybe not like an NFL draft pick, but certainly in command of the offense. I doubt that it’s really the Friday thing; if you look back to last week after the boo-birds were out after his third pick-six of the season, Lee is 24 for 35 with four touchdowns. That’s a nice crisp 69% completion percentage in approximately six quarters of football.

On the flip side of the ball, Bob Diaco’s defense continued a streak of good defense that started in the second half against Oregon. For the second straight week, the Blackshirts held an opponent under 200 yards. Over the last 14 quarters, the Nebraska defense has only allowed two touchdowns and three field goals. Yes, Northern Illinois, Rutgers and Illinois aren’t exactly offensive juggernauts, but 23 points allowed by the defense in three and a half games should be good enough to win most games. (Yes, we all know that the 21 points given up by the offense in that stretch were the problem.)

With that, here’s this week’s report card. As always, your comments are always welcome.

QB: Well, what a difference a week makes. In the first half, Tanner Lee was really good; he was the quarterback people had hoped to see all season long. In the second half, not quite so much. Lee wasn’t perfect, mind you. He threw off his back foot more than once; the last time would have been intercepted if not for great pass defense by Tyler Hoppes. But without a question, it was his best game. Grade: A-

I-Back: Illinois figured their best chance was to shut down the run and force Tanner Lee to either beat them or beat himself. Not a bad strategy, especially if you watched any Nebraska football this season. But that meant running room wasn’t very plentiful. Every so often, the backs found a crease, but it wasn’t very often. For the second week in a row, Devine Ozigbo was the designated fourth-quarter back. Five carries for 34 yards in the first three quarters, and 13 carries for 75 yards in the fourth. For the second week in a row, Ozigbo coughed up the ball deep in their own territory; that’s not a good trend for a player entrusted to hold down a lead. For all of the criticism of Mikale Wilbon’s pass protection a few weeks’ back, he’s really upped his game there. Grade: B

Wide Receivers: Stanley Morgan clearly wasn’t feeling 100%, though he still caught eight balls. The bigger concern was all of the drops. Lee did finally remember to throw a few passes to De’Mornay Pierson-El, which is always a pretty good idea. Hard to figure out why he’s been so underutilized. Tyler Hoppes had a couple of good catches, and more importantly, a key pass-breakup of a Tanner Lee back-foot WTF throw. The blocking from the tight ends still leaves something to be desired, though. Grade: B-

Offensive Line: Much like the receivers, I thought they had a schizophrenic hot-cold day. One play, opening up huge holes. The next? Missing a block to have a play blow up. So I’m putting this one right in the middle with a grade of C.

Defensive Line: Five tackles for loss for this group, helping lead the way for a second straight sub-200 yard effort. The Davis Twins were especially good in this game. Grade: A-

Linebacker: Freshman Ben Stille isn’t going to be “who dat?” guy much longer; in fact, he may be pushing Marcus Newby to the sideline once he’s healthy. All four tackles were for negative yardage, plus a forced fumble. Chris Weber lead with six tackles and the interception of the Hail Mary before halftime. There were a few seams early in the game in the running game, but those closed down as the game went on. Grade: A-

Secondary: Eric Lee struggled quite a bit in this game on coverage; it’s a good thing safety play continues to be strong. Antonio Reed continues to really play well replacing Joshua Kalu. Grade: B

Overall: B Is this game something to build on, or just an example of a “dead cat bounce” with Wisconsin and Ohio State on deck?

Poll

How would you grade the Huskers for their 28-6 victory over Illinois?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    A - All that we’ve been looking for this season.
    (33 votes)
  • 39%
    B - Improved offense and defense.
    (513 votes)
  • 44%
    C - Improvement? Yes, but exhibition season is over.
    (573 votes)
  • 13%
    D - Rutgers and Illinois are bad. Nebraska is simply "not quite as bad."
    (176 votes)
1295 votes total Vote Now

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I didn’t get to watch much football Saturday, as I spent the day and night with my son and his Cub Scout pack...but I did pick up enough snark on Twitter for the Tennessee VoLOLs and the LOL-SU Tigers.