Illinois, Nebraska could be in for shootout in B1G opener
Who: Nebraska vs. Illinois
When: Saturday, 3 p.m. CT
Where: Memorial Stadium, Illinois
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Nebraska -7
Matchup to watch: Wes Lunt vs. Nebraska secondary
Nobody in the country has been worse at defending the pass than Nebraska. Even South Alabama threw for over three bills against the Huskers. Lunt is going to look to continue that trend. He and Geronimo Allison have developed a nice connection that’s more than capable of exploiting Nebraska downfield. You have to think Bill Cubit is going to dial up plenty of play-action to give Lunt time to get some air under a few deep balls to Allison. Lunt has had accuracy issues in each of the last three games, however, which could end up costing him against a Nebraska secondary that’s going to have to take some gambles.
Thing I’m excited to see: Potential return of De’Mornay Pierson-El
Man, what a shot of life that would be for the Huskers. Pierson-El, as you’ll recall, has been out with a broken foot since the third week of August. He returned to practice on Monday and there’s a chance that he’ll be back Saturday. Tommy Armstrong has actually been solid for an offense that had some major holes to fill. But at the rate the defense is surrendering big chunks of yards, it can’t all fall on Armstrong to match that productivity. Pierson-El would add the dangerous element we all expected the Nebraska offense to have coming into 2015. And at the very least, his presence would divert some attention away from Jordan Westerkamp. Arguably the top return man in the country, Pierson-El can provide a lift even if it isn’t at 100 percent.
Number to remember: 43
That’s how many penalties the Huskers have this year. That’s more than any team in the country. Those already throwing Mike Riley under the bus are pointing to that stat because it does show a lack of discipline. Illinois isn’t exactly home to the most raucous atmosphere in college football. Backups on the field or not, there’s no excuse for that trend to continue. Nebraska has to figure out a way to defend without shooting itself in the foot. Giving free plays to the Illini offense won’t work, nor will putting Amrstrong and Co. in third-and-long situations. Winning on the road in the B1G is tough enough as it is.
Prediction: Nebraska 38, Illinois 35
If you’re a fan of smash-smouth, stout defensive football, flip the channel. There are sure to be many of B1G offensive plays with missed tackles galore. For as much as I’ve bashed on the opposing secondaries, I do think Clayton Fejedelem and Nate Gerry will make their marks on Saturday. Still, this one has shootout written all over it. I think Jordan Westerkamp has another monster game, and moves the Nebraska offense downfield. One too many Lunt interceptions down the stretch ends any hope of a late Illini comeback.