Huskers outrun Illini for 54-35 victory
In a game that at times looked more like a video game than reality, Nebraska was the team holding the controller last in a 54-35 victory over Illinois on Saturday.
The Huskers put up one of their best offensive performances in recent memory in the win, finishing with more than 600 yards of total yards and over 300 and four touchdowns on the ground.
Quarterback Adrian Martinez was once again as good as ever, completing 24-of-34 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns while rushing 13 times for 55 yards and another score.
Nebraska’s defense certainly didn’t have its best day, allowing almost 500 total yards and a combined 313 yards and three scores to former Husker quarterback AJ Bush (126 passing, 187 rushing) alone. But the Blackshirts and NU’s special teams were able to come up with five game-changing turnovers that resulted in 24 points.
Despite the frigid temperatures, Martinez was red-hot from the opening kickoff. On Nebraska’s first drive to start the game, Martinez rushed two times for 37 yards on the first two plays, and on the third, he hit Stanley Morgan Jr. with a 37-yard touchdown pass.
The score marked the sixth time in the past seven games that the Husker scored on their opening drive.
The good start didn’t carry over to the other side of the ball, though, as Illinois had no issue marching right down the field and scoring on an 11-yard touchdown by Bush.
That didn’t keep NU’s offense from slowing down, as a 49-yard rush by Maurice Washington led to a nine-yard touchdown run by Martinez to make it 14-7 with 7:27 still left in the first quarter.
The Illini came right back with an eight-play, 76-yard charge of their own, tying it up on Bush’s second touchdown run of the day from eight yards out. The back and forth continued on the ensuing series, as Martinez delivered a strike to Morgan for a 32-yard touchdown to make it 21-14 with 1:54 to go in the first.
Finally, with 16 seconds left in the opening quarter, Illinois delivered the game’s first punt on a fourth-and-5 from the NU 41-yard line. Nebraska exchanged that with its first punt of the day, but this time UI returner Carlos Sandy muffed the ball, and long snapper Chase Urbach recovered at the Illinois 45.
Nebraska capitalized with a 23-yard field goal by Barret Pickering that pushed the lead to 24-14 with 10:36 to go in the second. Illinois was well on its way to another scoring drive before the Blackshirts came up with their first takeaway of the day, as safety Tre Neal stripped Bush to get the ball back at the NU 23.
That led to a 66-yard touchdown scamper by running back Devine Ozigbo, marking the longest run of his career and pushing the lead up to 31-14 with six minutes before the half.
Facing a third-and-23 on their next drive, Bush came up with runs of 20 and nine yards to extend the possession and eventually set up his third touchdown rush from three yards out to cut the lead to 10 with just a minute left in the half.
The Huskers quickly went three-and-out and had to punt it away, but Jordan Holmes botched another punt that was recovered by NU at the Illini 7 with 20 seconds left in the half. Martinez made the most of it with a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jack Stoll with three seconds left to send Nebraska into halftime up 38-21.
Nebraska forced its fourth turnover of the game on Illinois’ opening drive of the third quarter when safety Aaron Williams hauled in a dropped Bush pass for an interception.
The Huskers then converted three straight fourth-down conversions before Ozigbo punched in a four-yard touchdown run to cap a 17-play, 82-yard drive that ate up 7:48 off the clock.
Martinez and Co. were on the move again to start the fourth quarter, but the freshman tried to force a pass to Kade Warner in the end zone, and the ball was kicked by an Illinois player and intercepted by Tony Adams for a touchback.
The Illini couldn’t do anything with it, though, and just as the game had gone all day, Nebraska was able to turn it into its first blocked punt of the season for a safety out of the end zone.
Backup quarterback Andrew Bunch checked into the game and immediately fumbled on his first rush, and Illinois recovered and turned it into a touchdown run by RaVon Bonner to cut it to 47-28 with 7:44 left.
Nebraska put its offensive starters back in and all but put the game away for good with a 60-yard touchdown run by Ozigbo, giving him 162 yards on just 11 carries with three scores for the day.
Illinois punched in another touchdown to pad the final stats with a 15-yard run by Dre Brown that made it 54-35 with 3:21 remaining.
Nebraska will return to action next week when it hosts Michigan State for its final home game of the season. Kickoff time and TV information for Senior Day will be announced on Sunday.