Huskers hang on for 31-16 victory over Illinois
On a day where Nebraska sputtered through the first three quarters against Illinois, the Huskers once again showed they are at their best when the game is on the line.
Trailing 16-10 going into the start of the fourth quarter, the Huskers out-scored the Fighting Illini 21-0 in the final 15 minutes to turn a potential loss into a 31-16 victory on Saturday afternoon.
Senior running back Terrell Newby ran for 113 of his game-high 140 rushing yards in the fourth quarter, including a 63-yard touchdown scamper that put the game to bed and improved NU to 5-0 overall and 2-0 in Big Ten Conference play going into its bye week.
After Saturday, Nebraska has now out-scored its opponents 78-6 in the fourth quarter this season.
The Huskers wasted no time setting the tone on the opening drive of the game, marching on a methodical 13-play, 75-yard drive that took up 6:30 minutes and scoring on a 1-yard touchdown rush by senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong.
Penalties thwarted a promising drive on NU’s next possession, and kicker Drew Brown fell a few yards short on a 56-yard field goal attempt. The miss snapped the junior’s streak of 13 consecutive made field goals dating back to last season.
Illinois would capitalize on the momentum shift, answering with a 31-yard touchdown run by Kendrick Foster to tie it up at 7-7 with 10:11 left in the second quarter.
Brown would redeem himself by knocking in a 29-yard field goal that capped off a 10-play, 53-yard drive and put Nebraska back up 10-7 with 5:59 remaining in the half.
But once again Illinois came right back and drove 69 yards on 10 plays to tie the game on a 24-yard field goal by Chase McLaughlin with 1:01 to go.
Armstrong connected with wide out Jordan Westerkamp for a 28-yard completion inside Illinois territory, but on the very next play Armstrong was picked off by Darius Mosely, who returned it to the NU 46 with 28 seconds left.
A 14-yard scramble by quarterback Wes Lunt set up McLaughlin for a 43-yard field goal attempt, and the sophomore converted to send the Illini into halftime with a 13-10 lead.
Nebraska’s defense forced a three-and-out on Illinois first drive of the second half, and then De’Mornay Pierson-El returned the ensuing punt 27 yards down to the Illini 29. But the the Huskers would squander the opportunity when sophomore running back Mikale Wilbon fumbled and Illinois recovered at its own 12.
Lunt quickly completed passes of 25 and 17 yards and Julian Jones rushed 31 yards down to the NU 14, and McLaughlin added his third field goal of the day from 33 yards out to push Illinois’ lead to 16-10 with 7:44 left in the third quarter.
That score would hold on into the fourth quarter, but after two costly penalties on Illinois and a converted fourth-and-1 at the IU 3, Nebraska finally got back on top with a drive that lasted 18 plays, 75 yards, 10:42 of game clock and more than 40 real time minutes.
That all paid off when Newby punched in a three-yard touchdown run to give the Huskers a 17-16 lead with 11:58 left to play.
The Blackshirts came up with the quick stop and forced Illinois to punt on the next drive, and after some tough runs and a 21-yard catch by Newby, Armstrong came up with his biggest throw of the game when he found tight end Trey Foster for a 6-yard touchdown pass.
The score gave the Huskers a 24-16 lead with 4:32 left on the game clock, and Nebraska turned the game over to its defense. Once again, the Blackshirts answered the call, forcing a punt on another three-and-out to give the offense the ball back with 2:57 to go.
Two plays later, Newby put the final stamp on the win with a 63-yard touchdown scamper.
The defense then stuffed Illinois on fourth down, and the offense would kneel out the rest of the clock from there.
Nebraska will return to action on Oct. 15 when it travels to take on Indiana for a 2:30 p.m. kick.