The Huskers travel to Champaign, IL, on Saturday night looking to snap their longest road losing streak since...well, since those times immortalized in black & white TV shows about fictitious vermin with names like Beaver and Opie.
And didn’t we all snicker June Cleaver told Ward that he “was a little hard on the Beaver last night”. Damn right he was June and if you don’’t start calling him Sir, there’ll be a ball gag and a some cuffs in your very near future. Ward knows you gotta play hard in this world, Mrs. C and perhaps a reminder is in order.
Wait, what was I talking about?
Oh right - Nebraska vs. Illinois. As always we want the skinny on our opponents straight from the folks that cover them and Tristen Kissack of The Champaign Room was generous enough provide some info and answers to the burning questions of the Corn Nation Staff:
1. Which do you prefer - head coach Lovie Smith or defensive coordinator Lovie Smith (of course, we all know his beard is the real star):
Neither! The beard is great, but those hairs are getting whiter by the game. I can’t think of one reasonable fan who thought that Lovie taking over the defensive duties on the coaching staff (in addition to being the CEO of the program) was a good idea. The defense was one of the worst in Power 5 football last year.
2. The Illini defensive line looks solid. Are they for real and what other players should we know about on that side of the ball?
The defensive line is no doubt a strength of this team. Are they for real? They certainly are good, but would they be a top-five unit in the Big Ten? I’m not so sure. USC transfer defensive end Oluwole Betiku Jr has been a menace and is one of the country’s sack leaders. He’s been excellent so far. Middle linebacker Dele Harding is a solid player and leads the team in tackles (by far). Cornerback Nate Hobbs also has his moments and does a nice job as a cover corner.
3. The coaches this past week said that Reggie Corbin might be the best running back they see all season. That would put him up with Jonathan Taylor of Wisconsin. Would you agree with that assessment?
I would not. We all know how good Wisconsin’s running backs historically have been, and I believe Jonathan Taylor is better than all of them — *I get Ron Dayne won the Heisman Trophy, but his style of running is not so suited to today’s spread offenses compared to the dynamism of Taylor... Personally, I am super duper high on Taylor and believe he’s the best player in this conference including all of the quarterbacks. He’s a generational type of running back talent. He’s that good.
Reggie Corbin is great, and his “wiggle burst” — what I’ll call it, between the tackles and big bodies in the trenches is amazing to watch. He has a second gear where once he gets past the last defender out on the edge, he can take it to the house untouched — his straightaway speed is significantly better than some star Illini running backs in the recent past including Rashard Mendenhall and Mikel Leshoure.
Back to the question. I think you’ll see two running backs better than Reggie Corbin looking at the rest of your schedule: Jonathan Taylor for sure and maybe JK Dobbins at Ohio State, too.
4. Also Nebraska’s defense has been pretty stout against the run thus far this season. Do you expect Reggie Corbin to go for over 100 yards rushing against the Blackshirts?
I do not. For a few reasons. 1. Nebraska did a solid job against Corbin a season ago in Lincoln. He was held to 59 yards on nine attempts, and had one catch for 34 yards and no touchdowns. You made sure he didn’t get loose last year. That’s a positive sign in your favor. 2. Reggie Corbin’s job is a bit tougher this year — the zone-read quarterback option keeper does not have the same home run potential (it exists, watch our highlights against Minnesota last year) as it had last year given the fact Brandon Peters is not a speedy runner in his own right compared to last year’s QB AJ Bush. The passing game has to be solid for Corbin to get close to 100 yards, and against EMU last week the passing game was shaky. 3. Based on your second question, it’s clear that stopping Corbin is a priority for Scott Frost, and he knows the best way to beat a team is to take away what they do best. Nebraska’s defense will be prepared to stop Corbin as its primary responsibility. He will be closely followed all game long.
5. I got stuck in Champaign once in a blizzard, so it was just motel food unfortunately. Where can a guy get a rub & a tug in your town? Or barring that, where should a road tripper go for some good grub and a couple sodas?
For cheap eats and refreshing beer, within five minutes from the heart of campus. We suggest either Legend’s or Murphy’s on Green Street. Both are great sports bars with super cheap great food and beverages and plenty of TV’s to watch your favorite games.
For more of a heavy meal, but THE best grub in town — check out Black Dog Smoke & Ale House. It’s the best BBQ in the state, and certainly better than any BBQ up north in Chicago. The newer location in downtown Champaign is in an old train station, and it’s right next to some other great drinking institutions.
If you need your deep dish fix (not sure how Nebraskans roll), check out Papa Dels. For comfort food and a great breakfast at a place that feels extremely midwest and old school awesome, Courier Cafe in Urbana is a great spot as well. (Editor’s note: Swing by the Original House of Pancakes on Sunday morning for some of the best breakfast in town.)
6. The Illini started out looking pretty good against Eastern Michigan. The offense was on fire, the defense was getting stops. Then everything went to hell. What happened?
Two primary things. 1. The second and third quarters happened. Brandon Peters kept misfiring. His overall numbers don’t look too bad from the game, but the way he played in the 2nd and 3rd quarters was atrocious — not all of it was his fault, but a lot of it was — just throwing passes way too high for his receivers or miscommunicating on certain routes. In the second and third quarters, Illinois’ offensive drives ended in this order: Punt, Punt, Punt, End of Half, Punt, Punt, Fumble, Interception, Punt. The Illini were scoreless in quarters two and three before getting hot in the 4th.
2. Penalties. If you’re in a close game like Illinois was against EMU, penalties will kill you. And they did. The Illini had nine penalties for 80 yards compared to EMU’s two penalties for 20. The Illini are an undisciplined football team, and they continue to shoot themselves in the foot. This wasn’t a one-off game either. Penalties have been an issue ever since Lovie Smith took over the program.
7. Pick‘em time - do the Illini extend the longest Husker road losing streak in 60 years or do the Huskers show up at 3-1 for prime time with Ohio State next week?
Nebraska’s going to win this game. Probably by a lot. I see the line right now is 13 points (so let’s just call it a two-touchdown difference). Illinois’ defense (especially in the depleted secondary) is so terrible and undisciplined, Nebraska’s speed guys like Mo Washington and Wan’Dale Robinson will have some big plays. I can see our offense getting back to rhythm, but our defense is not equipt (or coached well enough) to handle a Scott Frost coached offense for four quarters with the weapons at his disposal.