Tonight’s battle of Big 10 West teams with 2-3 records couldn’t just be a simple trip to Champaign, IL, nope it couldn’t. The Huskers were coming off a 45-7 thrashing by the #2 Michigan Wolverines, but Illinois seemed to be in a worse place having taken it in the teeth 44-19 from Purdue.
And then a couple of mitigating circumstances intervened.
1) Their goddamned stadium caught fire. I mean, not the whole thing and sounds like it wasn’t much damage - or at least enough to jack with a Power 5 football game. And other than dashing the hopes of some Husker fans who prayed it might be moved to Chicago, the residual effects there appeared to be negligible.
2) Dick Butkus, the greatest Illinois football player ever, fucking died.
Now, while some might make solid cases for Red Grange or Ray Nitschke, it’s Dick. And the almighty himself help anyone who ever made fun of his name within earshot. Before delving into this, all respect to the beautiful, psychotic Bears Hall of Famer:
Anyway, this could have had an effect on couple levels: a) Bert gets gets the boys fired up to win one for a dude who played all his games before their dads were born; b) the Big 10 thinks the Illini winning one for Butkus would make for great TV highlights and instructs the refs accordingly.
The first probably wouldn’t overcome Illinois’ horrid defensive backfield, poor turnover ratio and general drop-off since last season. The second, as both the Huskers and Illini have experienced, was 100% possible. (Hey, I promised to TRY and take it easy on B1G refs during the game’s review; no such promises were made for pre or post-game.)
As things turned out? Illinois was outed as just a bad, bad football team. But? Not as hard as they should’ve been because they played a Nebraska team who should’ve blown them out of their own stadium but insisted on refusing to put the game away.
This was an embarrassing 20-7 win. They hung onto it - Blackshirts, thank you - but it didn’t leave anyone very happy. Well, anyone within shouting distance of sobriety anyway. I, for one, require a bye week. I’m thinking some local camping and the backpack will be loaded with a couple books not involving sports.
- No surprises here. (Reminder this won’t include players already ruled out for the season.)
- The actual weather report says 10-20mph but don’t sleep on those elevator dudes.
Weather report from Champaign, Illinois:— Steven Sipple (@steven_sipple) October 6, 2023
Wind will be a factor for sure. Gusts of 30 to 40 mph expected, according to the elevator operator.
It's legit windy.
- That’s about it. With kickoff about 5-10 minutes away, there doesn’t appear to be any surprises or last-minute changes unless Sims jogs out for the first snap.
1ST QUARTER NOTES
- Illinois’ sputtering offense, after jumping on the opening play, attack through the air with pace and march right through the Blackshirts to the 20.
- Tony White is giving it to the defense during an injury break. And he should.
- Nebraska is just getting pushed around. This could get extremely embarrassing extremely fast. If the first drive is an indication and we’re finding out who the Huskers and their coaches are, the results are not good.
- Nebraska burns a timeout for what’s likely a plea to shut things down on the goal line. We’ll see.
- It works once. Refs allowed an extra long time with Illinois stood up going nowhere. Just an observation. Illinois burns a timeout but they may be begging a for review trying to get in the cheap way. Announcers observe a false start not called. Shocker.
- Stuffed! Take a suck of that cheesesteak, Bert!!!
- First red zone stop this season. Yikes.
- And it’s deep to Marcus for 39 yards. This game’s just going to be a rollercoaster.
- And so of course, he’s going to be lost for the year on the very next play. FUCKFUCKFUCK!!!!!!! (Fair warning, the cursing is about to increase.)
- Replay shows clear defensive holding on the injury. Not called? No way. But they’re right there for an IP on Teddy on 3rd and 1.
- 21 yards on a Haarberg bullet to Fidone on 3rd & 6 for the 1st. Haarberg and Grant smoke two hard runs for another 1st. Feels nice to run it down Illinois’ throat for change, I can’t lie.
- I very much support the decision to kick - don’t let them come up empty after starting on the 3-inch line after an 86-yard drive. Alvano finally hits his 2nd FG of the season and it’s - Huskers 3 Illinois 0
- Huskers called for defensive holding. Replay shows none.
- They still stop Illinois but since we can’t have nice things ever, it allegedly hits a Husker on the arm. I didn’t see a convincing overturn on the replay but it’s Husker ball, They will start the second quarter with a punt.
First quarter summary: This game wasted no time dredging all the emotions up. A 74-yard drive by Illinois to inside the Husker 1 was answered by an 86-yard Husker drive for a 31-yard FG which took the clock down to 1:59. Illinois is the most penalized team in the Big 10 so of course the 1st Qtr yardage is 25-5 Nebraska. Rhule isn’t lying - they need to sack up and just overcome everything.
2ND QUARTER NOTES
- Good news? - Washington is limping but he’s up trying to walk it off on the sideline.
- Illinois’ Altmeyer fumbles the snap, but thanks to a blatant uncalled hold, he is able to scoop it up and run about 5 yards for a 1-yard gain. No matter, the Huskers get them off the field.
- A completion to Alex Bullock is being reviewed. It also looks inconclusive but we never get two in a row. Do we?
- Holy shit. Yes.
- And a SECOND penalty on Illinois!! What is happening right now???
- Another low throw by Haarberg at helmet level is swatted down but they go for it on 4th & 6 at the Illinois 39 and it’s complete to Bullock for 6 yards and a first down!
- Huskers drive down inside the 1 even though Kemp appeared to kick the pylon before stepping out. Haarberg is stopped on the first try, but Grant squeezes in on 2nd down. Huskers 10 Illinois 0
- Insanely, with 6:47 left in the 2nd, this is only the Huskers THIRD drive. Their drive chart is 11 plays for 86 yards FG, 3 for 1 Punt and 14. For 79 TD.
- And a whirlwind moment if you like those sorts of things? Illinois fumbles the kickoff, Huskers recover and then Haarberg keeps up the middle for 25 yards and a TD! Huskers 17 Illinois 0
- Add a 1 play 25 yards TD to the drive chart.
- Now - after 5-7 years of watching the Huskers try to run the entire game clock out when bursting to an early lead, will we finally get to see the Huskers go for the throat? Stay tuned.
- And then finally there’s a sack against a team who’s been giving them up like grandparents with Xmas candy looking for revenge on their children.
- It’s three and out for Illinois and the punt is almost blocked. A Kemp fair catch and here we go.
- Nebraska goes the run, run, pass route like a mid-70’s Osborne squad and will punt it right back. Grrr.
- And we are quickly punished for that Vanilla Ball on a 46 yard TD pass to Pat Bryant. Huskers 17 Illinois 7
- Now I’m in “Can we hold it long enough to not give it back to them with time for another prayer?”
- Ethan Piper is helped off the field, doesn’t look great. I’m speechless. (He returned)
- They are throwing right now but Haarberg has tossed two straight wild ones, the 2nd almost picked. He then throws one right through Kemp’s hands which is almost picked.
- Buschini boots his second terrible kick of the night and is averaging 34 on three kicks.
- Two missed tackles on an easy sack turn into a 5-yard run for Altmeyer.
- What has turned into disaster previously near halftime, is momentarily turned back after a 4-yard sack by Princewill. Of course Altmeyer immediately finds Love for 10 yards and first down at the Huskers 37.
- 54-yard FG attempt coming…..and the icing timeout. I wish someone would poll a bunch of kickers from the last 30 years or so ofrom NFL and college, beg for honest answers and find out if the ice timeout ever affected them.
- On a chilly, windy night, the kick lands in the end zone and…where is (insert fast Husker who could outrun nine lineman, a kicker and a holder here) to return that shit?
- Awesome having a 17-7 lead in Champaign…but play to win, not stand pat.
Halftime summary: What was a dominating yardage advantage after going up 17-0 is now only 196-185 after giving up 105 yards in the last 3:16 of the half. If not for true frosh Umanmielen’s sack to stymie the drive for one more score, this could have ended much worse than 17-7. If anyone still thinks the Huskers don’t know how to win thing is bullshit, watch them - coaches AND players - after Haarberg’s 25-yard run. Instead of storming forward with that lead, one could almost see the “What do we do now??” thought bubble floating overhead.
Anyway - I’m officially a mess again…and it’s not a new thing. Think decades.
Yeah, Beth’s a gal, I’m a guy. But I own this 100%. Ask friends and family.
3RD QUARTER NOTES
- Haarberg hits Fidone for a first..then PITCHES it to Grant for 9. It makes me happy! (Please allow these cheesy things. I love when development and learning happens.)
- Wow. Illinois just demanded a penalty from the refs and got it. Way late. Never gets old, Would love to see what would happen if Nash just started jumping up and down, screaming and pointing. You know. Out of curiosity.
- Anyway gained some yards and punted. Field position battle won and then… Tommi with the pick!
- Short field drive stalls but Alvano boots his 2nd straight - a 32-yarder for a 13-point lead. Huskers 20 Illinois 7
- By the way, for anyone who read my betting recs in the How To Watch column yesterday? Fidone is over his receiving yards line. And the Anthony Grant 56.5 yards rushing Over had been bumped to 70 in 24 hours. He’s not there yet - but quite a few wagerers must have thrown down on that 1st line.
- Oh, the refs tried a horseshit targeting on a 9 yard loss. Even the head ref on review was… nope.
- Illinois thought a running rugby punt was a good idea despite Huskers getting good penetration all night. Punt blocked. Thanks Bert.
- Oh man. Should’ve had a 1st & goal on the 5, but Findone gator-armed one at his hands. And then Alvano blurked a 36-yarder but I’m told it may have been the holder’s fault.
- Huskers stop the Illini on 4th down. Because hell yes.
- We interrupt this broadcast to announce the Huskers are lining up in a 5-wide spread, with only Haarberg in the backfield. I announce to the bar, “QB DRAW!!” Because going back to Osborne, our QB has never run another play on 3rd and medium,
- Anyhoos. Haarberg for 8 on the QB draw up the middle, 1st down. End of 3rd quarter. You’re welcome.
3rd quarter summary: I’ll take a 3-0 win for the quarter. For one of the rare times in the last 10 years, it felt like the opposition was pressing harder than us. And if I’m honest? I felt like we left some points on the field. We’ll find out if the team is truly responding to Rhule’s “You’ll find out” challenge in the 4th.
4TH QUARTER NOTES
- The Huskers burst a solid run 1st and goal and Ben Scott chooses that moment for a cheap shot. Huskers overcome it for 1st down on a 5-yard chuck from Haarberg to Janiran Bonner for the 1st.
- We’re now watching a missed opportunities montage as FS1 throws that black cat out there on 1st and 10 from the 12.
- And for some reason, we had the Emmet the frosh in there at RB and he fumbles it away on cue. Well played FS1.
- Illinois goes three and out and Santino Kemp is there for the fair catch. (Look. He’s a very good WR. He was Virginia’s prime punt returner for three years never averaged over 7 YPR. Why are we always unable to find find guys that can’t do anything but fair catch? I’m serious.)
- This game is 3:15 hours in and there’s 11 minutes left. This is what can happen when you make speed up gameplay rules and just fill the extra time by doubling ad times.
- Hey - quick poll to myself: Will Nebraska A) put it away? Or B) try not to lose with all their heart and fuck it up? Feel free to hit the comments with your thoughts at the time.
- While I’m typing, Heinrich chucks his second pick of the year into double coverage.
- Newsome picks off a gift and returns it to the 10. Of course, Elijah Jeudy takes that moment to announce his presence with authority by getting tagged for 15 yards by pulling an Illinois player of the pile, a no-no which is not a secret. The 10-yard-line becomes the 25.
- Is anyone shocked by the Husker IP after getting a 1st down in the red zone?
- And another one. We might get the W but we’re also finding out.
- And we continue to find out as Haarberg loses 4 on a play which appeared to have no purpose. Can’t think of a better way to describe it. Just a horrid call run a confused offense.
- The Huskers, playing SOOOO hard not to lose, chickenshit a half-assed draw up the middle on 2nd and 14 and fumble yet another one in the red zone, courtesy of Anthony Grant. Maybe I shouldn’t have picked on Emmett Johnson. I really want to see Trev Lubin about now.
- Sorry. It pains me to have a game still in reach against a team we should probably be beating about 47-7 if we could not play Field Is Lava every time we hit the red zone.
- And here we go. Altmeyer is turning into Tom Brady although it’s probably too late.
- I think Nebraska with all their timeouts burned and Illinois having two left down 20-7 at this point tells a story of its own.
- Gifford breaks up the 4th & 2 and Huskers can run out the clock but I’m not filled with joy.
4th quarter summary: We get the win but maybe Rhule needs to do his best Ted Lasso and have everyone burn some shit in a trash can in a Wiccan ceremony. Because we didn’t win tonight, Illinois was just so damned bad they couldn’t take it from us. I feel good about saying the bookies were dipshits for thinking Illinois should be favored after getting shitmixed by Purdue like that was better than us getting destroyed 45-7 by Michigan. But that’s about it. This was not a W in the grand scheme of things.