Nebraska runs over Illinois in 45-14 blowout
By now, Nebraska's game plan for the season has become fairly obvious: give the ball to Ameer Abdullah and watch him run.
Once again, the senior running back carried the Huskers with another stellar performance, racking up 208 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries to lead NU to a 45-14 victory over Illinois in Saturday night's Big Ten Conference opener. Nebraska ended up rushing for 458 yards as a team and only completed 10 passes, as the defense overcame some early mistakes and settled in for a solid outing.
It was far from a perfect effort, as the Huskers turned the ball over twice and gave up some big plays to Illinois' offense, but with a potentially season-defining game against No. 9 Michigan State looming next week, it was a good enough effort to achieve a perfect 5-0 start for the first time since 2010.
"Well we're happy for the win," Pelini said. "Like I just told the team, I think there were some positives from this win, but a lot of things we need to get cleaned up. We still have a long way to go as a team. There's no question. Like I said, there's a lot of good things in there, but we're nowhere near what we're capable of being or where we want to be."
The night started out with a bang as Nebraska charged 75 yards down the field entirely on running plays and struck first with a 12-yard touchdown run by Abdullah, who carried the ball five times for 60 yards on the opening drive.
Though it looked like it was going to be a blowout from the opening kickoff, Illinois had no intentions of going away quietly. Even without starting quarterback Wes Lunt, who was a last-minute scratch due to injury, backup Reilly O'Toole led the Illini 75 yards in four plays with the help of a 41-yard touchdown run by Josh Ferguson. Both offenses would cool down after that, though, and most of that had to do with neither unit being able to stay out of its own way.
Tommy Armstrong threw a tough interception over the middle at midfield, and then O'Toole was picked off by Daniel Davie in the corner of the end zone to get NU the ball back. This time, Imani Cross coughed it up to give it right back to Illinois at its 22-yard line. Nebraska was able to settle down going into the second quarter, sticking with the run once again en route to a 10-play, 80-yard drive and Abdullah capping it off with an eight-yard touchdown run to make it 14-7.
The Huskers defense then evened up the turnover score with a pretty interception by Nathan Gerry, who returned it 54 yards down to the UI 5 (with the help of a crushing block by Randy Gregory). Three plays later, Abdullah dove into the end zone for his third rushing score of the night. After a quick three-and-out by the Illini, Nebraska needed just one play to all but put the game to bed, as Armstrong hit Kenny Bell on a beautiful 63-yard touchdown pass to make it 28-7 with 8:43 left in the half.
But once again, Illinois refused to give in. On the Illini's ensuing possession, receiver Geronimo Allison out-jumped cornerback Josh Mitchell on a long pass down the right sideline, kept his balance and trotted in for a 58-yard touchdown to bring it back to a two-score game.
Nebraska answered with a 29-yard field goal by Drew Brown to push the lead up to 17 with 2:48 remaining, but then missed a 54-yarder with three seconds on the clock to send NU into halftime up 31-14.
When the first half finally came to a close, Abdullah had put up 196 yards and three touchdowns on 20 rushes, averaging 9.8 yards per carry, to help the Huskers post 288 yards on the ground as a team. In fact, Abdullah would have just two more carries on the first play of the second half before heading to the sideline for good with a minor knee bruise.
"I like everything I see from Ameer," Pelini said. "He's a pretty special player. I mean he got hit in the knee and got a little bruise. We felt the game was in hand. Obviously we have a lot of good running backs. So we pulled the plug on him early in the third quarter and I thought that was the right thing to do."
The Huskers stuck to the same formula to open the second half, as the pounded the ball on an 11-play drive that ate up 5:31 off the clock and finished with a four-yard touchdown run by Cross. Freshman running back Terrell Newby then put a bow on the victory with a six-yard rushing score with just under five minutes to go, giving the game it's final score of 45-14.
The focus now can officially shift toward's next weekend's huge showdown at Big Ten West Division rival Michigan State, which also improved to a perfect 5-0 with a win over Wyoming on Saturday.
"They're a good football team and it's going to be a heckuva challenge for us on the road to win the football game," Pelini said. "Every week is motivation for us. At the end of the day, and I know you probably get sick of hearing it, but we've got to get better. We've got to get better this week to be able to go on the road and win against a good football team. We need to fix us first.
"We can't start the way we did defensively the way we did today. Can't shoot ourselves in the foot and have the turnovers and things like that. Things that don't magnify themselves tonight could magnify themselves a week from now. I don't know how that game is going to go. I don't have a crystal ball, but what we can control is getting better ourselves to give us the best opportunity to win the football game."