Illini defense looks to contain Cornhusker quarterback Adrian Martinez

Offensive+linebacker+Verdis+Brown+looks+to+tackle+his+opponent+during+the+game+against+Nebraska+Sept.+21.+Illini+defense+gear+up+to+compete+against+Nebraska+on+Saturday+at+Memorial+Stadium+with+their+lead+Quarterback+Adrian+Martinez.

The Daily Illini File Photo

Offensive linebacker Verdis Brown looks to tackle his opponent during the game against Nebraska Sept. 21. Illini defense gear up to compete against Nebraska on Saturday at Memorial Stadium with their lead Quarterback Adrian Martinez.

By Will Payne, Assistant Sports Editor

Nebraska is making its way to Memorial Stadium in Champaign this Saturday for the first game of this new season, and the Illini defense is no stranger to their main man. Quarterback Adrian Martinez is entering his senior year with the Cornhuskers fully healthy, and he is looking to lead Nebraska to a solid season.

Before even taking a single snap this season, Martinez is on the Maxwell Award Watch List, the Unitas Golden Arm Watch List and is the first three-time team captain in Nebraska’s history.

The dual-threat quarterback has caused issues for not only Illinois, but teams around the country. Martinez is coming into this season as one of the most talented quarterbacks in the Big Ten, and he has put his ability on display the past few years against Illinois.

During his freshman season in 2018, Martinez carved up the Illini defense during a 54-35 blowout in Nebraska’s favor. Martinez went 24-for-34 with 290 yards and three touchdowns, only tossing a single interception during the game. In 2019, Nebraska edged out Illinois in Champaign, 42-38. Martinez had another stellar performance, going 22-for-34 with 328 yards and three touchdowns. 

Last season, when Illinois visited Lincoln, the Illini took care of business, winning 41-23 as the defense dominated with five takeaways. Martinez was not in the starting lineup for this game and only played at the end when Illinois was already up big.

Surely the Fresno, California, native will be looking not only to start off Nebraska’s season on the right foot but also get revenge for his team’s loss last year and begin another win streak against Illinois.

With all the big personnel changes in Champaign since last season’s disappointing campaign, the Illinois defense has a chip on its shoulder to produce in the first game of the year. 

Senior linebacker Jake Hansen is excited about the opportunity to face Martinez once again, but he knows the talented quarterback will cause lots of trouble throughout the 60 minutes.

“Martinez is a great player,” Hansen said. “He’s given us a lot of issues and a lot of yards in the past, so we’re hoping to contain him and do a good job. Obviously he provides a great run threat and passing threat, so keeping him from running around will be big for us.”

Illinois typically opens up its season with a few nonconference games before heading into Big Ten action. This year, it’s completely different, as Nebraska and Illinois are facing off week one. Hansen knows this will be a challenge for the team, but he wants the Illini to take full advantage of this opportunity.

“I think going into a Big Ten game right off week one is a challenge,” Hansen said. “It’s definitely different whenever you have some teams in lower conferences first. But every game you have to approach it like you’re playing for the Big Ten championship.”

The positivity around the Illinois camp right now is infectious, and with fans back in Memorial Stadium, this group of players is excited to get on the field. Even with the looming threat of Martinez on Saturday, Hansen knows the Illini are ready to give it their all against Nebraska.

“I think we’re just excited,” Hansen said. “There’s less nervousness; we have a great plan. The coaches have done a great job putting guys in the right spots. We have a lot of faith in our coordinators on both sides, and we are really excited to put it out there on Saturday.

 

@WillPayne33

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