When Vegas set the line for Nebraska and Illinois in the single digits, my eyebrows were certainly raised. Were they buying the “Nebraska’s improved” line? Have they observed something different from Illinois than what I was perceiving? Were they simply factoring in drunk Husker fans putting their money on Mickey?
Well, Nebraska did play better than I expected on defense, and if Casey Thompson had been able to make past the midway point of the second quarter, could have had a puncher’s chance to make it interesting. Maybe. I think Mark Whipple and Mickey Joseph had some intriguing wrinkles inserted into this week’s game plan. I do believe that Bret Bielema and his staff was already adjusting to them, but you never know what might happen...especially if Rahmir Johnson doesn’t drop that wheel route pass...because that could have made it a 16-6 Nebraska lead. And that’s an entirely different ballgame than trailing 13-9 and having to come back with a backup quarterback.
But Johnson dropped the pass, and two plays later, Thompson gets drilled with the ball fluttering upwards for an easy interception and setting up an easy Illinois touchdown. And with Thompson out, Nebraska never seriously threatened Illinois the rest of the way. Bill Busch had Nebraska’s defense playing fairly well, holding Illinois to 40 yards under their average. Not great, mind you. But certainly better than we had been seeing from the Nebraska defense earlier this season.
If you were on the Mickey Joseph bandwagon, there were a handful of things you could highlight as signs of progress. The major negative was the unpreparedness of Nebraska’s backup quarterbacks. Perhaps that’s just signalling that there is a very wide gap between Casey Thompson and the others, but if that’s really the case, why did Joseph and Whipple sit Thompson and insert Chubba Purdy in the Indiana game? (In case you didn’t realize it already, Mickey Joseph isn’t anywhere near my top ten of Nebraska coaching candidates.)
So with that, it’s on to this week’s report card....and as always, your feedback is welcome in the comments.
QB: Casey Thompson wasn’t exactly having a great day prior to the injury, and let’s give Illinois’ defense the credit for that. Several missed passes and that first interception was awful. Then the backups came in: Logan Smothers went three-and-out on his only series, and Chubba Purdy wasn’t any better. You could argue that Smothers had a little more poise than Purdy did, but I think Purdy’s skillset probably better matches what Nebraska needs. One thing is clear: Mark Whipple has to have a backup better prepared to play than we saw this weekend, because one or both of these quarterbacks are likely to be pressed into action again this season. Grade: F
I-Back: Anthony Grant had his best game of the month, for what it’s worth. Still, he lost a fumble and is a little too keen to trying to dance around to evade a tackler. Case in point late in the third quarter: Grant gains eight yards and seems to have one man to miss for a huge gain. He could try to plow through him to get the first down, or dance around him. He tries to dance, and comes up two yards short of the first. Grade: C-
WR: An awful lot of drops and poorly run routes. (Brody Belt’s deep route seemed to get cut off leading to an incompletion, for example.) Nebraska tried to get the ball to Trey Palmer, but it just never happened. Bright spots were Alante Brown (nifty move to get open) and Chancellor Brewington’s yards-after-catch on the swing pass. Grade: D+
OL: I’ll be honest...that’s the best NU’s offensive line has looked all season long. Not great, mind you. But better than we’ve been seeing, especially considering how strong Illinois has been this season. Illinois blitzed all game long, and it was a winning formula...they just didn’t get home very often. Grade: C-
DL: Like the offensive line, I thought the defensive line did fairly well considering the competition. Some big stops by Ty Robinson and Colton Feist, while Garret Nelson made some plays as well against a physical Illinois offense. Grade: B-
LB: Luke Reimer was everywhere on the field (very good)...and the Illinois sideline (very awful), with the latter drawing an extremely unnecessary personal foul penalty that helped Illinois escape a 2nd and 22 hole. That’s a mistake that arguably should have kept him on the bench the rest of the way. Isaac Gifford is become a fairly reliable nickle back. Grade: C- (downgrade for the Reimer penalty).
Secondary: Quinton Newsome had a feast or famine game trying to cover Isaiah Williams. Sometimes he was outstanding - like sacking him for a 12 yard loss on a double pass attempt. But Williams caught all nine passes thrown his way, with 89 yards after the catch. Marques Buford had a decent game at safety, but overall, when Illinois only threw two incompletions...it’s not a good afternoon. Grade: D
Special Teams: A blocked extra point, and some poor kick return decisions. Tommi Hill ran one out of the end zone, perhaps trying to spark something. Trey Palmer fair caught a punt with nobody within ten yards of him. Brian Buschini continues to be a strong-legged punter, averaging over 48 yards a punt. (I just wish we didn’t need him so much.) Grade: C-
Overall: C- Nebraska was more competitive in this one than I thought they would be. There were a few things to build off of, as long as Casey Thompson is able to go.
How would you grade the Huskers for their 26-9 loss to Illinois
This poll is closed
A - A beautiful late October day. I never left the tailgate.
B - But for Thompson’s injury, it could have been special.
C - Couldn’t overcome the injury to Casey Thompson
D - Don’t have a functioning backup quarterback, unfortunately
F - Failed to win. Again.