Illinois stuns Nebraska with late score
Final: Illinois 14, Nebraska 13
Telling stat: Nebraska’s zero second-half touchdowns
The Nebraska offense couldn’t muster much of anything in the second half. Why? Tommy Armstrong was 10-of-31 for 105 yards. That won’t cut it. He didn’t get much help from his receivers, either. Tight end Cethan Carter and tailback Terrell Newby were the only two Huskers to finish the game with more than one catch. Brandon Reilly and Jordan Westerkamp were virtually invisible all game. That’s a credit to the Illini secondary, which delivered some key stops down the stretch. Clayton Fejedelem picked off Armstrong on an ill-advised throw and prevented Nebraska from a third-down conversion. For all the talk about Nebraska’s high-powered passing offense, the Illini defense stole the show — and the game — in the second half.
Key play: Geronimo Allison 1-yard TD catch for the win
What a bizarre way to end the B1G opener. Nebraska gave the ball back to Illinois after failing to convert on fourth down. All the Huskers had to do was prevent Illinois from driving 72 yards in the final minute and they had themselves a win. Instead, Wes Lunt found Allison on the right side of the end zone for a game-winning touchdown to completely stun Nebraska. Allison somehow managed to maintain possession despite the fact that he was falling to the ground. After the day that was for the Nebraska defense, that was another crushing way to fall.
-Josh Ferguson left game in first half
Even more impressive of that late rally was that Illinois pulled it off without their versatile, pass-catching tailback. Ferguson left the game in the first half with a shoulder injury and didn’t return. For an Illini offense that lacks safety valves, that’s a major blow. Ferguson had 48-yard run already and showed signs of taking advantage of some poor Nebraska tackling. Credit Ke’Shawn Vaughn for stepping up in the second half and pacing the Illini. Still, this offense needs its best skill player back in the fold.
-Chris Weber had a career day
The Nebraska linebacker stepped up in the absence of Josh Banderas and delivered a career-high 17 tackles, two of which for loss. Loss aside, he was huge. This team lacks sure tacklers, and for most of the afternoon, it appeared that Weber was the catalyst in a stout Nebraska showing. If Allison drops that last pass, Weber is the hero. Unfortunately for he and the Blackshirts, 59 minutes of solid football wasn’t good enough. Again.
What it means: Illinois can compete, Nebraska’s sky is falling
Let’s start with Illinois because Bill Cubit’s postgame reaction said it all. For this team to be 4-1 and somehow beat Nebraska in dramatic fashion is incredible. Illinois has struggled to get that big play in close games, and for the first time in recent memory, it got one. That’s a major win for a dwindling fan base. That’s going to put more people in the seats next week, guaranteed. Nebraska, on the other hand, is going to have a long flight home thinking about that one. Mike Riley has three losses before he has his first B1G win. That’s the first of many times you’re going to hear that stat thrown around in Nebraska. Husker fans wanted to see this team get back on track after last week’s second-half showing in a nail-biter win against Southern Mississippi. Clearly, this team has a problem closing. It’s easy to point the finger at Riley for the decision to go for it on fourth down. Still, players need to execute. And right now, Nebraska isn’t doing that when it matters most.