The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Illini football hosts Nebraska Cornhuskers in must-win game

James Hoeck
Junior defensive tackle Jer’Zhan Newton alongside the rest of the Illini football team rush in to the stadium on Sept. 16. Illinois will face Nebraska on Friday night at Memorial Stadium.

Friday night lights are back in Champaign for a Big Ten showdown. The Nebraska Cornhuskers (2-3, 0-2) are in town in a matchup of struggling teams with identical records. The Illini (2-3,0-2) are returning home, desperate to get back on track for their bowl game goals.

The Cornhuskers entered the 2023 season as an intriguing team with many new faces. Head coach Matt Rhule had an unsuccessful tenure in the NFL, amassing an 11-27 record across three seasons before being fired by the Carolina Panthers. He returned to college football this year, but things have not gone according to plan.

Rhule’s impressive turnaround with the Baylor Bears enticed some talented freshmen and transfers, including former five-star tight end Arik Gilbert, to come to Lincoln. The tight end hasn’t gotten a snap yet, however, after he was arrested twice in one week leading up to the season.

The disappearance of Gilbert may not have affected the results thus far, but they certainly set the tone around the program. 4-star transfer quarterback Jeff Sims was highly regarded in the offseason, coming to Lincoln from the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Sims was quickly benched, however, after turning the ball over six times in two games.

Sophomore quarterback Heinrich Haarberg took over the offense and has led the team to a 2-1 record since Sims was removed. Haarberg has only thrown for 477 yards in three games on 52% completion, but four touchdowns and only one interception solidifies him as the starter going forward.

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Defensively, the Cornhuskers have been solid for a losing football team. Three of their five opponents didn’t eclipse 14 points, and the powerhouse Colorado Buffalo offense had only scored 13 points through 38 minutes. Field position from offensive turnovers and fatigue set in for the remainder of that game, but the only offense to truly torch the Cornhuskers so far has been No. 2-ranked Michigan Wolverines.

The Illini offense has been far from the Wolverines, only scoring 21.6 points and averaging over two turnovers per game. Still, the Illini average nearly 400 yards per game, showing their troubles don’t include moving the ball.

Punching the ball into the endzone has been difficult for the program lately, and it ends up getting the defense in trouble. Led by junior lineman Jer’Zhan Newton, the defense has performed well this year, despite what the final scores may seem. Head coach Bret Bielema has noted that the offense hasn’t made it easy for them.

We really put out defense in a position to, not have great success, Bielema said. You couldn’t win that game if we didn’t go for it, even though it put our defense, really defensively, I feel we put them in 20-21 points, however you want to look at it. We put them in short field when we went for it on fourth down and again with the onside kick.

An interesting note for this game is the state of Memorial Stadium. A Tuesday night fire under the horseshoe saw firetrucks and police cars lined down East Kirby Avenue and the north side of the stadium as students and locals gathered around the smoky stadium.

“The fire was quickly contained and has been extinguished,” read an Illinois Athletics press release late Tuesday night. “DIA (Division of Intercollegiate Athletics) will continue to evaluate the facility over the course of the next day but early indications are positive that the stadium will be prepared to host the game, as scheduled and without interruption of seating or services, for the game on Friday.”

The show must go on. Friday marks the Illini’s third night game of the year and second Friday game. The Illini are currently on a three-game win streak in the series, and one more will tie the longest win streak in their matchup history. A win will also bring the Illini back to a .500 record, which they will strive to hover around or above for the remainder of the season to make a bowl game.



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About the Contributors
Ben Fader
Ben Fader, Sports Editor
Hello, I’m Ben! I’m a junior at Illinois and assistant sports editor at The Daily Illini. I’m majoring in journalism and minoring in communications and recreation, sport and tourism. This is my third year with The Daily Illini, and I can’t wait to produce some amazing work. Feel free to contact me at my email below with questions or concerns, or if you just want to talk sports!
James Hoeck
James Hoeck, Photo Editor
Heyo! I am James Hoeck, a third-year undergraduate student in photography with a minor in media. I have been a part of Illini Media for two years, starting back in fall 2021. I hold the position of Photo Editor here at The Daily Illini. I also work as Photo Editor for Illini Media’s Illio Yearbook. There is a good chance you will see me out and about on campus taking photos for my personal work or for The DI and/or Illio! If you want to check out more of my work, visit my socials linked below.
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