The Illini get their first win in Nebraska since the Red Grange days in 1924 and improve their record this season to 2-3, tied with Minnesota. The Fighting Illini dominated the entire game starting from the opening kick. The Illini defense forced 5 turnovers and played Lovie Ball. The offense has their starting quarterback for the first time since the 45-7 loss to Wisconsin in Brandon Peters who was finding open receivers throughout the entire game. The run game also had their foot on the fictional gas pedal, with Mike Epstein and Chase Brown both going over 100 yards. We will unpack the game here:
Let’s start with the opening play of the game. The Nebraska return was stopped on the 10-yard line when the returner was hit-sticked by the Illini. On the very next play, Redshirt Freshman QB Luke McCaffrey was facing pressure, when he opted to throw what looked like a forward pass, backward for a Jake Hansen fumble recovery which gave the Illini the ball on the Nebraska 10 right out of the gate. The Illini scored on their first drive with a Chase Brown 3 yard punch in to jump out to a 7-0 lead early. The run game was dominant throughout the entire game, which is made possible when you don’t start out in a 14 point deficit. As I stated in the intro, both Illini running backs each slated over 100 yards on the ground, Mike Epstein tallied 113 yards on 13 carries, and Chase Brown 110 yards on 26 carries. Each RB punched the ball into the endzone, Brown doing so twice.
Overall, there was a very balanced attack being called on offense by OC Rod Smith. The Illini passed the ball 25 times and rushed 52. The final 15 plays the Illini ran on offense were run plays to chew the clock out in the latter half of the 3Q and the 4Q. Not only was the attack balanced, when Peters did throw the ball he spread it out among a lot of targets. Donny Navarro caught 5 passes, Josh Imatorbhebhe 4, Daniel Barker 3, and Casey Washington 2. The offensive line played their best game of the season today, getting into the secondary and allowing Epstein and Brown to make plays. They also only allowed Peters to be sacked one time, which wasn’t really on the positron group rather on the TE Barker who didn’t pick up a block on a Husker pass rusher.
Moving over to the defensive side of the ball, the Illini had 5 total takeaways which are peak Lovie Ball. Linebacker Jake Hansen tallied an interception and a fumble recovery, Kahlen Tolson and interception, Tony Adams in an interception, and Tarique Barnes and interception. Not only did the Illini defense get takeaways, but the defensive line also made Luke McCaffrey very uncomfortable in the pocket, notching 3 sacks(Perry, Carney 2,).
Here are the Illini Drives which resulted in points throughout the game:
Illini touchdown set up by a 28-yard pass from Peters to Josh Bhebhe in the corner of the endzone
Mike Epstein breaks off a 59-yard run
Blake Hayes fakes a punt for a 1st down which gives the Illini a 28-yard field goal
Peters QB Sneak off Epstein fumble recovery
Peters extends a drive with his legs to get the Illin in field goal range,
Final Score: Illini 41, Huskers 23
This was the most well-balanced game that the Illini have played on both sides of the ball setting the tone right out of the gate with the quick touchdown on the Nebraska turnover on the opening play. The Illini improve their overall record to 2-3, with a looming Ohio State team slated to come to Champaign.