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Report Card: Illinois Fighting Illini 41, Huskers 23

Debacles like this calls for a lot of soul searching.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

From the opening kickoff, you could tell this wasn’t going to be Nebraska’s day. Alante Brown made an ill-advised choice to return the kickoff out of the endzone and got blown up at the 17 yard line. Luke McCaffrey made a boneheaded improv decision to lateral the ball, which was ruled a fumble, recovered by Illinois without any review. On the very next play, Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters fumbled the ball forward after his knee was down, gaining an extra eight yards on the recovery. Again, no review.

Now, to sit here and argue that Nebraska lost this game because of some bad officiating would be ludicrous because Illinois simply kicked Nebraska’s rear end. Illinois outplayed, out-efforted, out-executed and out-coached Nebraska. And that’s something that simply shouldn’t have happened.

Fellow CornNation writer Patrick Gerhart asked late in the game that if the head coach wasn’t named Scott Frost, would we be calling for firings? And the sad truth is “yes.” The amount of progress Frost has made thus far with this program in since he was hired 150 weeks ago is negligible. But the fact that Frost is a former Husker and the fact that Nebraska is still on the hook for four more years and $20 million in the middle of a pandemic which has led to magic budget deficits in the athletic department gives Frost more time to right the ship.

Those are words that would have been inconceivable when Frost was hired. But that’s the situation Nebraska and Frost is in. I’m still hopeful that Frost is going to make this work; the problem is that progress should be much more apparent than it is so far. I’m going to be patient because I believe that Frost is still our best shot to bring Nebraska back. Nebraska can’t just keep firing their way to success; at some point, you’ve got to give someone some leash and let them run with the program.

So onto this week’s report card, where you should be able to guess all of the grades for this week. As always, your feedback is welcome in the comments.

QB: I would hope this is a painful week of video review for Luke McCaffery. McCaffery’s first half was a mixed bag; he ran the ball well, but that seemed to be his only option due to a lack of confidence in what else could be done offensively. McCaffrey’s eyes and arms were erratic as he was slow to recognize his receivers and then frequently misfired on his throws. Nebraska ran 46 offensive plays in the first half with 20 McCaffrey runs and 16 pass attempts. I would have suggested giving Adrian Martinez a shot in this game much earlier than Frost did. Perhaps that’s because he was hoping McCaffery would play his way out of his struggles, but the result was letting the game slip further and further away from Nebraska. My gut instinct still remains that Nebraska needs to use McCaffery as a complementary piece to Martinez, with McCaffery frequently lined up at multiple positions to keep defenses off-kilter. Dial back to a package that McCaffery can be confident in and execute quickly so that he’s spending less time thinking. Grade: F

Wan’Dale: The issues with Nebraska’s quarterbacks getting the ball to receivers has a cascading effect of getting Wan’Dale Robinson more snaps at I-back. Which is fine in small doses as a change-of-pace option to mix things up, but more often, it seems that Frost wants to use him as an every-down option, which he’s simply not built to do. Wan’Dale had a couple of really nice runs, but also fumbled away what might have been Nebraska’s last chance to get back into the game. I’d love to see Nebraska’s quarterbacks try to target Robinson more often in the open downfield rather than depending on Robinson getting his touches from the backfield. Grade: C-

I-Back: I thought Marvin Scott looked fine in the first quarter, but got hung out to dry on a couple of carries in the second quarter. Then he disappeared in the second half, presumably to get the ball to Wan’Dale Robinson more. Grade: Incomplete

Wide Receiver: It seems like McCaffrey liked to target his tight ends quite a bit in this game. Or maybe more importantly, check down to his tight ends. I think Nebraska has more talent at receiver than we’re seeing because the quarterbacks weren’t going there. Take this throw into double coverage; look at Zavier Betts in the background.

Last year, I gave Martinez a pass, blaming instead the lack of development on the receivers. Well, we have several freshmen (Marcus Fleming, Betts) who’ve shown some potential. The coaches need to make an effort to get them the ball downfield and figure out why the quarterbacks aren’t trusting them. Grade: D

Offensive Line: The line looked good early, but Illinois made some adjustments to stop that. Snapping issues scuttled multiple drives, which made the situation even worse. What we hoped was going to be a team strength is proving to be a bit of a liability. Grade: F

Defensive Line: Most disappointing to see the defensive line get dominated the way they did. Casey Rogers did have five tackles. Grade: F

Linebackers: The linebackers found themselves out of position most of the day. Will Honas did have 10 tackles, and seemed to be playing hard. Hopefully, Collin Miller will be fine after what was an awfully scaring scene in the fourth quarter. One bright spot to note is that after Miller’s injury, the defense seemed to play better the final few minutes of the game. Grade: F

Secondary: Wide open receivers made it easy pickings for Brandon Peters, who had zero rust after missing the last three weeks in quarantine. Grade: F

Overall: F First of all, let’s give Lovie Smith and Illinois the credit they deserve for a big win for their program. I’ve taken some abuse over the last couple of years for touting Smith and the Illini, and on this Saturday, Illinois looked like a legitimate team that could battle most everyone in the Big Ten’s west division. On the other hand, very little went right for Nebraska in a game that should bring a lot of soul searching for the players and coaching staff on a short week. You know the Hawkeyes have to be salivating about their chances to make it six in a row over the team to the west.


What was Nebraska’s biggest issue against Illinois?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    Offensive scheme
    (257 votes)
  • 43%
    Offensive execution
    (365 votes)
  • 10%
    Defensive scheme
    (91 votes)
  • 14%
    Defensive execution
    (119 votes)
832 votes total Vote Now

Elsewhere in College Football

Rutgers: B+ Gave football fans one of the most entertaining games of the day, showing us that effort can matter more than pure talent.

Northwestern: A+ Northwestern isn’t going to out-talent anybody, but they out-execute everyone.

Big Ten Refs: ZERO. Simply pathetic, starting with a phantom offensive pass interference call on what should have been Purdue’s game winning touchdown against Minnesota. Multiple ridiculous blown calls in the NU/Illinois game and some screwups in the other games as well. Frankly, I lost count of the mistakes.

Adidas Alternates: D There’s nothing really wrong with the Blackshirt alternative uniforms from a design perspective. The problem is that NU is now 0-4 when wearing the black, and frankly, the players play worse in the gimmick uniforms. Rewrite the contract and tell Adidas it doesn’t work. They probably won’t mind, simply because the Huskers poor performances in these uniforms won’t generate a lot of sales. Nebraska’s home and away uniforms are classic and traditional, and variations like the “surrender whites” only hurts the brand.