Even though Illinois and Nebraska have just three Big Ten wins between them, both enter their game Saturday believing they’re on the verge of breakthroughs.
The Illini (4-5, 2-4) have doubled their win total from 2017 and are coming off their best performance of the season in a 55-31 victory over Minnesota. The Cornhuskers (2-7, 1-5) went into the Horseshoe and played eighth-ranked Ohio State to within 36-31.
“You can only get so much better without getting the result you want,” Nebraska running back Devine Ozigbo said. “So we’re just going to keep working and keep getting better. Wins are the next step for this team. If it’s not now, it’s definitely going to be in the future. This team is just going to continue to get better.”
The Huskers won two straight before coming up short against the Buckeyes, and anything less than a win over Illinois would be a step back, Nebraska offensive lineman Jerald Foster said.
“We have three games that we think that we can win,” he said. “So we’re going to keep pushing forward. Illinois is the next game that we’re going to play. We’re excited for it, and playing against guys that I’ve grown up through college with, like AJ on the other side, it’s going to be a whole lot of fun.”
Illinois quarterback AJ Bush spent the first two years of his college career at Nebraska. He played a year at Iowa Western Community College and another year at Virginia Tech before landing with the Illini this season.
The Illini are going for their fifth win, which would be the program’s most since 2015, and must win two of their last three to be bowl eligible for the first time since 2014.
Illinois lost by 22 and 15 points in coach Lovie Smith’s first two games against Nebraska. This year’s team is better than his first two.
“You get to a point where — boom — you can really see yourself ready to take off,” Smith said. “We love being three-touchdown underdogs going into an environment like that.”
THE RUN IS FUN
The game matches the nation’s two most improved rushing offenses. Illinois’ Reggie Corbin is averaging 106 yards per game to rank third in the Big Ten, and the Illini are running for 249 a game — 143 more than a year ago. Nebraska averages 217 yards on the ground, a 110-yard improvement.
Nebraska will wear alternate uniforms that pay tribute to the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I and celebrate Memorial Stadium, which was named in honor of Nebraskans who died serving their country. The jerseys will be similar to those worn in 1923, the year the stadium opened, and the helmet design gives a nod to the leather helmets of yesteryear.
Illinois has 16 scoring drives of less than a minute, third-most in the FBS behind Alabama and Utah State and tied with Clemson. Twelve of the 16 drives have come against Big Ten competition, including three last week against Minnesota. In 2017, the Illini had four such drives all season.
ILLINI STRUGGLE IN LINCOLN
Illinois has lost eight of nine games in Lincoln, including four straight since a 9-6 win in 1924. In that game, Nebraska held Red Grange scoreless for the first time in his career.
COULD BE COLD
California-born Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez isn’t worried about how he will handle the weather. The forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-20s at kickoff with the breeze making it feel colder.
“We practice in the mornings all the time, I have a hand warmer,” he said. “I can’t complain. We have heaters on the sideline. I think I’ll be just fine.”
Source: The Associated Press