Illinois drops Big Ten opener to Nebraska, 28-6


Quentin Shaw

Illinois quarterback Chayce Crouch stiff-arms a defender during the game against Nebraska at Memorial Stadium. The Illini lost 28-6.

By Jacob Diaz, Staff Writer

The Illini spent the past two weeks looking forward to their Big Ten season opener against Nebraska, but it quickly became a game to put in the rearview mirror.

Nebraska outplayed Illinois on both sides of the ball in what quickly became a sweep for the Huskers, who won 28-6.

Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee threw nine interceptions in his first four games, but he found huge gaps in the Illini defense all night to the tune of 246 passing yards.

Things turned south for the Illini quickly in the first half when on the third play of Nebraska’s first offensive drive, safety Bennett Williams was ejected from the game for targeting.

Nebraska looked over the middle on a third and long, and Huskers receiver Tyler Hoppes came down with the ball between multiple Illini defenders. Williams, a true freshman starting at safety, laid a crunching helmet-to-helmet hit on Hoppes, who dropped the ball in the process, but picked up the flag and the first down.

“We had them in a favorable third and long situation, and then we get that targeting penalty,” head coach Lovie Smith said. “That got them momentum to keep that drive going, and from there, we didn’t play as well as we needed to.”

The Illini defense proceeded to allow the Nebraska offense to find the endzone on all three of their drives in the first half.

“It comes down to individual performances,” defensive lineman Jamal Woods said. “The coaches gave us all the tools we needed, as a defense we just need to do better. We need to look back on this game and figure out where all our mistakes were, and hit it in practice.”

Meanwhile, the Illini offense couldn’t quite put it all together either. Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee let Chayce Crouch tuck the ball and carry it himself early and often, and Crouch paid him back with 37 rushing yards.

But while Crouch found his footing against Nebraska, he continued to struggle with his arm. He managed to complete nine of his 15 passes on the night, but only managed 99 passing yards.

“I think as an offense, you need all eleven (players) clicking at the same time,” Crouch said. “You can’t have ten people playing well and one guy make a mistake, and that’s myself included. We have to be clicking, every player every snap.”

Crouch was sacked five times as the Illinois offensive line continued to be a problem area, even now that they’re recovered.

When the Illini did manage to put a drive together, they were unable to put the finishing touches on it. Twice the Illini came within ten yards of the endzone, and twice they only managed a field goal.

“When one side is getting touchdowns, you need to be able to match that,” Smith said. “We didn’t get anything going tonight. I can’t really talk about anyone really playing well. I think we had one injury, and that’s about the only thing that I can see that came out of this game.”

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