Nebraska Football: NU ReView, Nebraska 28, Illinois 6

normal service

On what is hopefully not the last Friday game Nebraska plays for a while, NU rolled into Champaign and won a comfortable 28-6 win over Illinois. Even though the Illini held the ball for almost the entire first quarter, Nebraska was efficient on offense and built a comfortable lead that it never relinquished.

The Good

O-Line Optimism. Yes, quarterback Tanner Lee deserves significant praise for an efficient and turnover-free performance. But a significant portion of Lee’s success against Illinois came because the offensive line really performed well (particularly in the first half) protecting their signal-caller and giving him the time to go through his progressions.

Sure, Illinois isn’t very good, and Nebraska’s performance has to be taken in context. But Northern Illinois isn’t very good either, and – well, we all remember what happened there. So getting that good performance has to be nothing but encouraging.

Stanley Morgan. Welcome back, Stan. Wide receiver Stanley Morgan was a game-time decision with a neck injury, but dressed and played. He led Nebraska in receptions (8) and yards (96), including a stiff-arm touchdown and a remarkably physical first down catch to help keep a drive alive and help put the game out of reach early.

The Blackshirts are Back? Yes, this is the soft part of the schedule. But if you take the second half of the Oregon game and extrapolate it to a full game, Nebraska is now averaging allowing 190.8 yards and 5.7 points per game.

I know, I know, Husker Fan, you can’t get visions of Arkansas State bubble screens or Oregon’s 42-point first half out of your mind. I get it. And with Wisconsin and Ohio State coming to town, those averages are sure to go up pretty soon.

But defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s Blackshirts have put enough good performances down to have some degree of confidence in the defense as the meat of the schedule arrives in Lincoln.

The Bad

Corner Questions. If there was one glaring weakness of Nebraska’s performance against Illinois, it was at cornerback. Eric Lee drew pass interference calls on the first two deep balls he was asked to defend. Lamar Jackson struggled both in coverage and in tackling throughout the night. Against a poor and young offense like Illinois, Nebraska was able to overcome the poor play from the cornerback position.

That won’t be the case as the sharp end of the schedule, namely Wisconsin and Ohio State, comes up.

Stanley Morgan. Yes, Morgan was great against Illinois. But when he wasn’t great, he was kinda terrible. He had at least four drops and a fumble to compliment his offensive production – meaning his game could have been significantly better than it was. Almost assuredly, Morgan wasn’t fully healthy and played hurt. The extra day to prepare for Wisconsin next week might end up being very important for Nebraska.

Not All Sunshine and Roses. Lee’s performance against Illinois looked a lot like the guy Nebraska fans thought they were getting at the start of the 2017 campaign. But when your name starts trending on Twitter after you’ve thrown your third pick-six interception in two games, you know things aren’t going the way you want.

And while Lee’s game against the Illini was cause for hope, there was at least one throw that had to give Nebraska fans flashbacks. In the third quarter, Lee was rolling to his left and pressured. Off his back foot, he put up a wounded duck in the vicinity of tight end Tyler Hoppes, which looked to be an easy interception. Hoppes made a brilliant defensive play to keep the ball in Nebraska’s hands and Lee from going double digits in interceptions.

And The Resumption of Normal Service

Wrap your head around this. Nebraska’s game against Illinois – the fifth of the campaign – was the first game this year where Nebraska didn’t trail at some point in the first quarter. Before this game, Nebraska’s biggest lead at any point in a game this year had been a 10-point advantage in the first half against Arkansas State.

So it was more than a little comforting to see Nebraska up 21-3 over Illinois as the first half expired. Moreover, given how well Nebraska’s defense was playing, at no point was there ever a real concern that Illinois was going to mount a serious comeback. At the start of the season, this dope thought that the combination of a Friday game and Illinois having an extra week to prepare made this game a recipe for a shocker.

Instead, Nebraska flashed back to a more pleasant time for its fans, dominating a less talented team and never really being in danger of losing. Given how the schedule tightens up, this will likely be the last opportunity for Nebraska fans to see such a comfortable win. But it’s certainly good to see Nebraska still remembers how to cruise to a win.

GBR, baby.

Image courtesy of wellbelove.files.wordpress.com.

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4 thoughts on “Nebraska Football: NU ReView, Nebraska 28, Illinois 6

    • I don’t. It was an oblique defence to hoping Nebraska can hang on to playing on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Looking back, you’re right, I could have made that clearer. Thanks for reading!

  1. This one was a good game, it gave me a lot of hope. I know Illinois isn’t very good, but any time you go on the road and hold a team under 200 yards and 7 points, you’ve had a good day. Huskers.com ran an article today where they pointed out that this was the fewest road points given up since Kansas State scored just 3 in 2006, and first three-game stretch without surrendering more than 250 yards since the first three games of 2003. We’ve had some good defenses between then and now, and they’ve played some bad teams, and even they haven’t matched these feats, so you gotta be excited about this group.

    Honestly, so far this season reminds me a lot of 2009. A QB who looked great to start the season but has struggled as the competition has ramped up (they even have the same last name), an offense that we all hope just doesn’t mess everything up, a defense that gave up a ton of yards at the beginning (it’s easy to forget now, but the 2009 team gave up almost 400 yards against FAU in week 1, though they did limit the points) but has since played lights out and looked special. An early “measuring stick” game we expected to be exciting that was pretty lopsided (Texas Tech in 2009, Oregon in 2016), followed immediately by a shocking, “How did they possibly blow this one?” loss.

    They’re lacking an other-worldly talent like Suh, but otherwise I think there are a lot of similarities. As we saw that year, if Lee can just not make too many scary mistakes, we might just shock the world.

    Assuming the refs don’t rob us again.

    • Boy that’s an interesting comparison. I hadn’t thought about 2009, and I see where you’re coming from. I do think there is way more offensive potential this year. Tanner has a way higher ceiling than Zac ever did. I’m not sure any of the backs are as good as Helu in his day, but having four solid guys (who are getting a bit of a defined role) is encouraging. And good heavens, 2017 NU has more talent AND ceiling at receiver. Morgan is better than any 2009 receiver, and Pierson-El, Spielman, and Lindsey all feel like explosions waiting to happen.

      I am not as sold on the defense. Yes, great performances, but the cornerback play terrifies me. Any team with competent quarterback play is going to really test Eric Lee (too many Lees …) and Lamar Jackson. Unless they can play better (and who knows), Sconnie and Ohio State will eat them alive. Haven’t heard anything about Kalu, but getting him back would be helpful.

      I am sneaky optimistic about this week. And, boy, if Nebraska can knock off Sconnie next week, then the whole season narrative changes.

      Thanks for the response, I really appreciate you reading and your smart responses!

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