After its best offensive performance of the season at home against Miami of Ohio last week, the Illinois Fighting Illini were set for their first Big Ten game with a ton of confidence against a Nebraska defense that had been quite porous through its first four games.
Furthermore, for the second week in a row, the Cornhuskers were going to be without their starting quarterback Taylor Martinez. Everything was pointing toward Illinois having a great shot to start out the conference season with a big win and snap its Big Ten losing streak, but it seemed no one told the Illini.
While running back Josh Ferguson had another terrific day for the Illini, the rest of the offense was shut down by the Cornhuskers defense, and the Illinois defense made it appear that Nebraska wasn’t missing Martinez at all.
Ferguson accounted for 196 (114 yards rushing, 82 yards receiving) of Illinois’ 372 yards of total offense and two of the three touchdowns. Outside of Ferguson, no one on the Illinois offense did much. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase went 13-of-26 for 135 yards and an interception and had only 11 rushing yards. Donovonn Young managed 61 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, but most of that came in garbage time.
The big reason why the Cornhuskers didn’t miss Martinez was Illinois’ inability contain Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah. He ran all over the Illini defense, totaling 240 total yards and two touchdown runs. Tommy Armstrong Jr., filling in for Martinez at quarterback, had a respectable day against Illinois. Armstrong went 8-of-13 for 135 yards and two touchdowns and added 18 rushing yards. The Cornhuskers were so proficient on the ground that they didn’t have to put the ball in the air much.
The Illini offense that had came into this game high-flying was only able to convert four third down attempts and didn’t find the end zone until halfway through the third quarter against a struggling Nebraska defense. This loss says more about how much work the Illini still have to do than how good the Cornhuskers are.
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