Nebraska heads to Illinois not only looking to win its Big Ten opener Saturday night but also shed something of an albatross.
The Cornhuskers (2-1) are 0-7 on the road under second-year coach Scott Frost, and in four of those games they were tied or led in the second half.
"We want to come into Illinois and knock that off," linebacker Collin Miller said. "I think it gives you a little motivation. Illinois is a real good team. Night game, so I think we want to go in there and prove we're here, that we can go anywhere and play and come out victorious."
Nebraska is a two-touchdown favorite against the Illini (2-1), who are coming off a 34-31 home loss to Eastern Michigan of the Mid-American Conference.
"The real season starts right now when you get into Big Ten play," Illinois coach Lovie Smith said. "They beat us pretty good last year, and we know they are an outstanding football team. They present a lot of different challenges for us, but we are really excited about that."
Last year, the Huskers converted four of the Illini's five turnovers into 24 points while pulling away for a 54-35 win in Lincoln. The Huskers rolled up 606 total yards on a raw afternoon when the wind chill dipped to 13 degrees. Illinois amassed 509 yards in a meeting of what was then the Big Ten's worst defenses.
Both teams' defenses have been upgraded, though Illinois is banged up, and the Illini have a new quarterback in Brandon Peters who presents more of a passing threat than his predecessor. Nebraska's Adrian Martinez will be playing the Illini for the second time, and Smith said he and his defensive assistants are better able to scheme against the dual-threat quarterback.
"We have an idea how they're going to try to attack us," he said. "We have a game plan that we feel very comfortable doing. Show up Saturday and you'll see exactly what it is."
Nebraska was preparing sophomore offensive lineman Broc Bando to play more snaps at left tackle. Three-year starter Brenden Jaimes went out with a lower-body injury in the second half of last week's 44-8 win over Northern Illinois. Jaimes was limited in practice this week, as was safety Cam Taylor-Britt (upper body).
For Illinois, injuries have sidelined defensive linemen Jamal Woods, Kenyon Jackson and Isaiah Gay, linebacker Khalan Tolson and safeties Tony Adams and Stanley Green. Defensive lineman Lere Oladipo was out last week because of suspension.
THE 900 CLUB
If it beats Illinois, Nebraska will become the sixth college program to win 900 games. They would join Michigan, Ohio State, Texas, Alabama and Notre Dame. The Huskers are 899-389-40 all-time.
Illinois RB Reggie Corbin returned from a hip pointer to run for 144 yards against Eastern Michigan and is averaging 7.5 yards per carry. Corbin left last year's game in Lincoln because of injury in the second quarter.
"I know there are a couple of other good running backs in the league," Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said, "but I think he's right there with all of them."
Nebraska opponents are averaging just 2.2 yards per carry.
Frost said punter Isaac Armstrong or safety Lane McCallum would do the place-kicking and backup punter William Przystup would handle kickoffs. Starting kicker Barret Pickering remains out with an undisclosed injury.
The Illinois athletic department is giving free tickets to students, and 13 Illini greats in several sports will be inducted into the school's athletic hall of fame. Also, record-setting quarterback Jack Trudeau (1983-85) and Mike White, who coached the Illini to the 1983 Big Ten title, will be on hand.
"I talked (to the players) about the audience that will be watching us and what we have going on this weekend," Smith said. "There's a lot of things surrounding this game, and we want to be ready to go. And as much orange as we can see, the better off we will be."
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