In the topsy turvey world of Husker football you never really know what you are going to get. Particularly this season. This team has been incredibly inconsistent on both sides of the ball. As the season began it was the defense that was horrid. Painful even!! Then as the defense molded into shape, it was the offense that was awful. This team has been all over the map through 4 games. So what were we to expect going into a road game on a Friday night in Champaign where the opponent has 14 days to prepare vs just 6 for the Huskers? From there my pessimism took over. Horrible, awful thoughts about NU losing to the lousy Illinois Illini crept in. What would that mean? Where would we go from there? All of that was complete and total nonsense. The Nebraska Cornhuskers firmly handled the Illini. They never stood a chance. The Huskers took care of business and wore out this undermanned squad. This was a complete effort by the Big Red. It is something that was extremely encouraging to see going forward.
The credit for this victory should be widespread. Everyone deserves a bite of that cake. But this defense absolutely needs a sizable piece. The Husker defense, who just a few weeks ago was much maligned, was again outstanding. The Illinois offense never stood a chance. The Fighting Illini offense failed to cross 200 yards on the night. Early in the game it became abundantly clear that Illinois did not trust its passing game and would lean heavily on the ground. While they found bits of success, nothing was sustainable. The Husker defense held Illinois to an average of 2.5 yards per rush and under 100 on the game. When the Illini dared to throw the ball, the NU pass rush was ferocious, recording 5 sacks on the night. Carlos and Khalil Davis along with Freedom Akinmoladun lived in the Illinois backfield. It was beautiful. Don’t look now but after an extremely rocky start, this unit has transformed into a really good defense. Credit Bob Diaco for coming up with a scheme to match the talent on hand and produce a quality defense. Sure, this crew has yet to play a prolific offense, but over the last 14 quarters they have allowed just 2 TDs. I don’t care if you are playing the marching band, that is outstanding. Tougher days are surely ahead, but if this defense continues with this trend, NU will be in every game they play.
This offense has taken more than its share of lumps thus far. They have earned it!! Turnovers, horrible offensive line play and awful 3rd down conversion rate have doomed this unit all year. Friday night this offense came out with a different approach. Danny Langsdorf clearly aimed to keep keep QB Tanner Lee out of bad situations, opting more for intermediate throws than deep ones. The thought was that this strategy would cut down on costly turnovers and increase efficiency. Go figure, it worked. Tanner Lee was very good, throwing for 246 yards on 17/24 passing with 3 TDs. That is an average of 10.3 yards per attempt. It was hands down his best game. This offense was also 7-11 on 3rd downs. An emphasis on the running game also contributed to the improved efficiency. For the 2nd week in a row, Devine Ozigbo bullied his way to over 100 yards. His emergence has been a real shot in the arm for this offense. I’m not real sure why he wasn’t getting any playing time before last week, but it is clear that has to change even when Tre Bryant returns. He adds a unique dimension that the other RBs cannot match. Even a 3rd quarter fumble can be overlooked, when you see #22 running as hard as he does. Overall it was a great night for the offense. NU scored TDs on each of their first 3 drives and took a 21-3 lead into the locker room. Along with a feisty defense, this productive offense gave the Illini no chance to hang with the Big Red.
Lets be frank, Illinois is not a quality outfit. I highly doubt that Lovie Smith is going to be around for too terribly long. That team is short on talent and direction. Time may prove them the worst team in the Big 10. But as I said last week, all conference wins are good wins. Give Big Red credit for beating the pants off an inferior opponent. They could have come out and played around with Illini like they were the family pet. We have seen this team do that in the past. Instead, their no nonsense approach made for an easy night for Husker fans. In that way this was an impressive business trip for a relatively young team. Be advised, bigger games are here. Next up is the Wisconsin Badgers, a team that has owned the Huskers since their arrival in the Big 10. The Badger’s credentials are well known. However, a defense that is getting better every week and an offense with a renewed emphasis on the ground game gives this Husker fan a reason to believe that NU can hang with Badgers. Mix in a little Memorial Stadium magic and, well, next Saturday night could be special.
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