football Edit

Instant takes: Illinois 30, Nebraska 22

Here are some instant takes and reactions following Nebraska's 30-22 loss to Illinois in its season opener on Saturday.

Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez running from Illinois LB Jake Hanson (35) and DL Keith Randolph Jr (88)
Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez running from Illinois LB Jake Hanson (35) and DL Keith Randolph Jr (88) (AP Images)

Nebraska's defense changed the momentum in first quarter

The Huskers had the momentum sucked away from them by giving up a safety on special teams and then allowing a 45-yard run by junior running back Mike Epstein.

NU's defense and in particular defensive tackle Deontre Thomas and outside linebacker Garrett Nelson sacked quarterback Brandon Peters on 2nd down and eight. Thomas's first career sack injured Peters and he was walked off the field but rode the chart into the locker room. He never returned to the first but was on the sideline in a sling.

Back-up quarterback Artur Sitkowski saw his pocket collapse on the next play and Husker outside linebacker Pheldarius Payne earned his second sack of the day. This forced a 55-yard field goal that James McCourt sailed far left.

Husker quarterback Adrian Martinez marched NU down the field on the back of a 45-yard pass to running back Markese Stepp. Stepp ran the ball for a touchdown but a missed extra point gave Nebraska a 6-2 lead.

Nebraska's defense completely changed the momentum and helped NU get its first points on the board.

Special Teams has a long way to go

Nebraska started the game with a stalled-out five-play drive that ended in a 26-yard punt by Daniel Cerni in the first punt of his Husker career spotting the Illini at their own 49. Cerni had a 13-yard punt in the fourth quarter to set Illinois up at their own 24.

Later in the first quarter, Cam Taylor-Britt tried to field a punt while running backward and was tackled in the end zone for a safety, 2-0 Illinois.

And to add upon a rough special teams game, kicker Connor Culp missed an extra point after running back Markese Stepp punched in a touchdown. Culp, the 2020 Big Ten Kicker of the Year, missed an extra point at the end of the fourth quarter that would have allowed Nebraska to tied the game with another TD.

During the off-season, head coach Scott Frost and his staff put a major emphasis on special teams. We have yet to see the fruits of that labor.

3 early costly mistakes

Nebraska had three big mistakes in the first half and Illinois scored on all three mistakes.

First was Taylor-Britt's punt return safety. Then, on what would have been a redemption interception, outside linebacker Caleb Tannor was flagged for a roughing the passer and unsportsmanlike conduct for a 30-yard Illinois gain. The Fighting Illini turned that into their first touchdown of the game, 9-2 Illinois.

Finally, at the end of the second half, Nebraska had an opportunity to score before halftime but Martinez squandered it away when his pocket collapsed and he fumbled the ball. Calvin Hart Jr. returned the ball for a 41-yard touchdown, 16-9.

Nebraska offensive line dominated by Illinois defensive line

Martinez was sacked five times for a loss of 35 yards. One of those sacks came when his pocket collapsed around him and he fumbled the ball.

He had 14 rushing attempts with 62 yards and a 75-yard touchdown in the middle of the fourth quarter. This meaning he had negative rushing yards at one point. He finished with 111 rushing yards on 17 attempts.

Center Cam Jurgens had a holding penalty to destroy a drive at the beginning of the fourth quarter and snapped the ball over Martinez's head, causing a 15-yard loss and a fumble recovered by NU running back Rahmir Johnson.

When Nebraska's offense was knocking at the door of a touchdown, Illinois linebacker Jake Hansen got through the line to stop Johnson twice. The Huskers opted to pass for the touchdown.

The Huskers were dominated up front and as a team, had 145 rushing yards on 39 attemtps.