Nebraska Preview: Cornhuskers at Illinois
After a less than perfect start to the 2017 football season, the Nebraska Cornhuskers are looking to keep their Big Ten Conference record unblemished as they get ready for a rare Friday night kickoff.
The Huskers (2-2) play at Illinois, Friday night.
The Illini (2-1) are fielding the youngest team in the nation this season, starting ten true freshman.
That inexperience has really hampered them offensively, as Illinois comes in 110th in the nation in passing, 102nd in rushing, and 106th in scoring.
Protection has been an issue for the Illini offensive line, as both Illinois quarterbacks, Chace Crouch and Jeff George Jr. have struggled tossing five interceptions and just two touchdowns in three games.
Crouch has started all three games, but he was pulled in favor of George in the second half of their last game. No word yet on who will start against Nebraska.
Running back Mike Epstein averages six yards a carry, while wide receiver Mike Dudek has 14 catches in three games.
Defensively, Illinois is small but fast. They've already recorded eight sacks in three games, with defensive end Bobby Roundtree picking up three.
The Illini are susceptible to the run, giving up 184 yards a game on the ground (96th in the nation).
Special teams has been a strong suit for Illinois in 2017, with a nation-leading three blocked kicks already.
Kickoff is 7:00 PM, Friday in Champaign. You can catch all of the action on ESPN 99.1.
After back-to-back non-conference losses for the first time in 60 years, Nebraska righted the ship with a conference-opening 27-17 win at home over Rutgers at home last Saturday (September 23).
Both teams opened the game with impressive touchdown drives.
The Scarlet Knights got on the board first with an 11-play drive, followed by a Cornhusker seven-play drive to tie it 7-7.
On the Nebraska drive, quarterback Tanner Lee was 3-for-3 with a touchdown pass to JD Spielman.
The rest of the half, Lee struggled. He completed just three of his next ten attempts and tossed an interception.
Things went from bad to worse for Lee three plays into the second half, as he threw his third pick-six in the last two games, his FBS-worst ninth interception overall, and Rutgers was up 17-14.
The Huskers responded with an effective running game, keyed by Devine Ozigbo. The junior - who had just two carries for eight yards in the first three games - carried the ball 24 times for 101 yards against Rutgers.
That running attack also paid big dividends for Nebraska, which held the ball 11:16 in the third quarter, grabbing the lead for good on a Lee to De'Mornay Pierson-El touchdown pass.
The Blackshirt defense did their part to preserve the win, keeping Rutgers out of the end zone after the opening drive of the game. Antonio Reed and Luke Gifford each had second half interceptions.
I talked with the 'Voice of the Huskers', Greg Sharpe, about the Northern Illinois loss and the Big Ten opener with Rutgers: