Nebraska came in to Friday night’s game with plenty of questions to be answered. Those answers were more positive than negative in a 28-6 victory over the Illinois Fighting Illini.
Top of the list was just how would Tanner Lee respond to a few bad games. His play was nearly perfect on the night, completing 70 percent of his passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns.
Lee’s hot night started early as he hooked up with De’Mornay Pierson-El for a 45-yard strike midway through the first quarter for a 7-0 lead.
The return of senior wide receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. was also a key help, as he picked up a game-high eight receptions for 96 yards and one touchdown. None of his eight catches was bigger than the 23-yard touchdown reception early in the fourth quarter that put the game at 28-6 in favor of the Huskers.
Next on the list for the Huskers was finding some consistency along the offensive line. That got better as the game went on, with the Huskers putting up 165 yards on the ground and Tanner Lee being able to get a cleaner pocket as the night went on.
Illinois came out with a power-run attack with Chayce Crouch behind center. The Illini gameplan seemed obvious and it was working to a degree early on in the game. In fact, the first quarter featured just two passes for Illinois and they were down just 7-3 after the first 15 minutes of action.
Illini in the 1st quarter…
Gee…I wonder what the gameplan is w/ Chayce Crouch at QB?
— talking Big Ten (@talkingB1G) September 30, 2017
It looked like Nebraska’s defense could have been in trouble too, as Illinois was able to march down the field early on in the game. However, it didn’t result in points and eventually Nebraska adjusted and put the clamps down on the Illini offense.
Crouch eventually had to become a passing quarterback, which did not go well. While he completed 9 of 15 passes, Crouch managed just 99 yards and was sacked five times while also throwing an interception.
The Huskers also bottled up the Illini’s biggest hope, freshman running back Mike Epstein, to the tune of 46 yards. Following an impressive opening quarter, Illinois finished the game with just 93 yards on the ground.
It was perhaps the best Nebraska’s defense has looked all season and a continued sign of improvement when put together with last weekend’s stats against Rutgers.
While it may be tempting to say there were big steps forward, Illinois is clearly in a full re-build so putting too much on this victory may be a bit much and Rutgers has a long way to go offensively as well.
After all, four fumbles (only one lost) and five penalties show there is plenty still to work on in Lincoln.
At least Nebraska has confidence heading in to its date with the Wisconsin Badgers next Saturday. It will need all the confidence it can get judging by the trajectory of the teams so far this season.