HQ prediction: Nebraska 48, UI 34

QUARTERBACKS
2    Nathan Scheelhaase    6-3    205    Sr.    Kansas City, Mo.

4    Tommy Armstrong    6-1    210    Fr.    Cibolo, Texas
Edge: Illinois. It would have been a tossup if Taylor Martinez started. But Bo Pelini named Armstrong his starter Thursday night as Martinez continues to recover from a turf toe injury. Plus, you have to give credit where credit is due. And Scheelhaase certainly deserves a large pat on the back for the way he has played this year. So far. He struggled against Washington, but Washington’s defense is vastly superior to the one Scheelhaase will face Saturday in Lincoln. Scheelhaase has adapted well to the pocket-passer mentality that offensive coordinator Bill Cubit wants out of his starting quarterback. When Scheelhaase has to run the ball, the Illinois offense isn’t as effective. Strange to say those words considering Scheelhaase’s legs were a key reason that Illinois went to back-to-back bowl games in 2010 and 2011. Scheelhaase is the Big Ten’s most efficient quarterback and could quiet more skeptics Saturday with a stellar performance.

RUNNING BACKS
6    Josh Ferguson    5-10    195    Soph.    Naperville

8    Ameer Abdullah    5-9    190    Jr.    Homewood, Ala.
Edge: Nebraska. Abdullah is third in the conference in rushing yards per game and has posted three games of at least 100 yards this season. He can catch passes out of the backfield, too, having hauled in 11 receptions for 115 yards. Abdullah is a dual threat, and he continues the solid tradition of I-backs produced by the Cornhuskers. The plan for Illinois is to likely give Ferguson and Donovonn Young the same workload. Cubit knows he needs both backs, and both are different runners, with Ferguson — who leads the country in receiving yards by a running back with 262 — more of a finesse runner on the perimeter. Young will need to produce runs in between the tackles. If Ferguson and Young can produce like they did against Miami (Ohio), it should bode well for Illinois, but Abdullah is capable of a big play any time he touches the ball.

RECEIVERS
12    Ryan Lankford    6-0    175    Sr.    Jacksonville, Fla.
8    Miles Osei    6-0    195    Sr.    Mount Prospect
80    Spencer Harris    6-3    205    Sr.    Greenwood, Ark.

80    Kenny Bell    6-1    185    Jr.    Boulder, Colo.
18    Quincy Enunwa    6-2    225    Sr.    Moreno Valley, Calif.
10    Jamal Turner    6-1    185    Jr.    Arlington, Texas
Edge: Nebraska. Bell wins the best hair part of this competition, if there was one. Harris would claim that title for Illinois with his shaggy locks, but Bell’s afro that will peek out his helmet Saturday is a sight to see. So is his game. He caught the 100th pass of his college career last Saturday against South Dakota State and has more than 1,500 career receiving yards. He’s not the only wideout Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks will have to account for. Enunwa is just as capable. He leads the Cornhuskers in receiving yards (202) on 17 catches, and more impressively, has five touchdown receptions. He’s a big, physical wideout the likes of which Illinois has only seen against Washington this year.

TIGHT ENDS
3    Jon Davis    6-3    240    Jr.    Louisville, Ky.

41    Jake Long    6-4    240    Sr.    Elkhorn, Neb.
Edge: Illinois. Don’t be shocked if Davis, Matt LaCosse and Evan Wilson are all on the field at numerous times for the Illini. Like on the first play. Cubit wants to get his big guys involved. Based on the success the Illini had against Miami (Ohio), Nebraska will try to stifle the trio, much like Washington did. Combined, Davis, LaCosse and Wilson have 20 catches for 223 yards and six touchdowns. Not too shabby. Long isn’t utilized too much in Nebraska’s passing game, at least not so far this season. He comes into Saturday with four receptions for 69 yards. If Davis, LaCosse and Wilson can come close to matching the production they had last Saturday against the RedHawks, Illinois should stay competitive with Nebraska the whole game.

OFFENSIVE LINE
68    Simon Cvijanovic    6-5    310    Jr.    Cleveland
74    Michael Heitz    6-5    305    Jr.    Vermont
52    Alex Hill    6-3    315    Jr.    Slidell, La.
69    Ted Karras    6-4    300    Soph.    Indianapolis
70    Corey Lewis    6-6    315    Sr.    Cresco, Pa.

71    Jeremiah Sirles    6-6    310    Sr.    Lakewood, Colo.
68    Jake Cotton    6-6    305    Jr.    Lincoln, Neb.
62    Cole Pensick    6-2    275    Sr.    Lincoln, Neb.
61    Spencer Long    6-4    315    Sr.    Elkhorn, Neb.
63    Andrew Rodriguez    6-6    330    Sr.    Aurora, Neb.
Edge: Nebraska. Experience and continuity isn’t a question when it comes to the big linemen the Cornhuskers have. The starting five has made a combined 85 starts, with Sirles and Long the veterans of the unit. It’s evident in the protection they have given Martinez, Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Ron Kellogg III this season. Nebraska has allowed two sacks, the fewest in the Big Ten and, for good measure, the country. The line also has paved the way for Abdullah and given Huskers quarterbacks plenty of time to scan the field and find open receivers. Conversely, Illinois has allowed 10 sacks this season, tied for last in the Big Ten.

DEFENSIVE LINE
59    Tim Kynard    6-3    270    Sr.    Toledo, Ohio
95    Jake Howe    6-3    300    Jr.    McHenry
44    Austin Teitsma    6-2    290    Jr.    Glen Ellyn
55    Houston Bates    6-3    250    Jr.    Covington, La.

9    Jason Ankrah    6-4    265    Sr.    Gaithersburg, Md.
53    Thad Randle    6-1    290    Sr.    Galena Park, Texas
98    Vincent Valentine    6-3    325    Fr.    Edwardsville
44    Randy Gregory    6-6    255    Soph.    Fishers, Ind.
Edge: Nebraska. The Cornhuskers’ best pass rusher might not start Saturday. Avery Moss has a team-high 2.5 sacks and had two of those sacks during Nebraska’s loss to UCLA. The freshman splits time with Gregory at one of the end spots. Valentine, a former Illinois recruiting target, and Randle are tasked with plugging up the middle, but they haven’t had much success. Three of Nebraska’s first four foes rushed for more than 200 yards. But Illinois’ pass rush is the worst so far in the Big Ten. Illinois has four sacks this season, last in the conference and two fewer than Purdue, which sits in 11th place in that category. And only 1.5 of those sacks have come from defensive linemen Kynard and Bates. Going up against a stout Nebraska offensive line does not look like it will bode well for the front four Illinois will use.

LINEBACKERS
45    Jonathan Brown    6-1    230    Sr.    Memphis, Tenn.
43    Mason Monheim    6-1    235    Soph.    Orrville, Ohio
14    Eric Finney    6-1    215    Soph.    Corona, Calif.

25    Nathan Gerry    6-2    210    Fr.    Sioux Falls, S.D.
41    David Santos    6-0    225    Soph.    Spring, Texas
13    Zaire Anderson    5-11    220    Jr.    Philadelphia
Edge: Illinois. Brown is proving a point to the NFL scouts who have swung by Champaign this season. The athleticism is clear when Brown goes after a ball carrier or quarterback, and his smarts are paying dividends in his tackle totals. He is sixth in the country in tackles per game (11.8) and ranks first in the conference. Not far behind him is Monheim, who is averaging 9.5 tackles a game. Monheim, while not having the same type of speed as Brown, is just as capable with his ability to keep his shoulders square in front of an opposing offensive player. His ability to finish tackles was much better against Miami (Ohio) than it was against Washington. He will need to produce even more against the Cornhuskers.

SECONDARY
2    V’Angelo Bentley    5-10    190    Soph.    Cleveland
9    Earnest Thomas    6-2    210    Jr.    Orchard Lake, Mich.
3    Taylor Barton    6-1    215    Fr.    Orlando, Fla.
27    Eaton Spence    6-0    185    Soph.    Belle Glade, Fla.

5    Josh Mitchell    5-11    160    Jr.    Corona, Calif.
6    Corey Cooper    6-1    210    Jr.    Maywood
1    Harvey Jackson    6-2    210    Jr.    Fresno, Texas
17    Ciante Evans    5-11    190    Sr.    Arlington, Texas
Edge: Nebraska. The takeaways just haven’t happened when it comes to this group for Illinois. Barton’s interception against Cincinnati is the lone pick the Illini have had this year. Forcing turnovers has become a staple of Nebraska’s secondary. Evans has three interceptions, and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, who splits time with Mitchell, leads the squad with four. Only two other players in the country have as many interceptions as Jean-Baptiste. Nebraska’s nine interceptions rank fifth in the nation. Cooper, a former Illinois commit and 2009 News-Gazette All-State selection, has one. Illinois’ young secondary is improving, but it’s not on par yet with the one Nebraska has.

SPECIAL TEAMS
17    Taylor Zalewski (K, KO)    6-3    220    Soph.    Orland Park
18    Justin DuVernois (P)    6-1    190    Jr.    Plantation, Fla.
54    Zach Hirth (LS)    6-4    220    Fr.    Eureka, Mo.
86    Tim Russell (Holder)    6-6    235    Sr.    St. Charles
2    V’Angelo Bentley (KR, PR)    5-10    190    Soph.    Cleveland
8    Miles Osei (KR, PR)    6-0    200    Sr.    Mount Prospect

94    Pat Smith (K)    5-11    185    Sr.    Quincy
37    Mauro Bondi (KO)    6-0    200    Soph.    Boca Raton, Fla.
27    Sam Foltz (P, Holder)    6-1    200    Fr.    Grand Island, Neb.
91    Gabriel Miller (LS)    6-0    235    Fr.    Mishawaka, Ind.
80    Kenny Bell (KR)    6-1    185    Jr.    Boulder, Colo.
1    Jordan Westerkamp (PR)    6-0    200    Fr.    Lombard
Edge: Illinois. The place-kicking situation leaves a little to be desired. Zalewski has missed two of his last three field goal attempts. If he hooks one or pushes one wide Saturday, don’t be surprised if Tim Beckman opts to use Ryan Frain. Which doesn’t necessarily imply good kicks will follow. But, on the bright side for Illinois, Bentley is leading the country in kickoff return average (37.5 yards) and has given a lift to a stagnant unit. Same thing on the punt returns. DuVernois’ leg should be well-rested because he hasn’t punted in a game since Sept. 14, and Russell has proven he’s a capable passing threat for any two-point conversion or fake field goal. Bell is a possibility to take it the length of the field, and Westerkamp, a 2010 and 2011 News-Gazette All-State pick from Montini, returned the first punt of his college career for 9 yards against South Dakota State.  

COACHES
Tim Beckman    At UI (5-11)    Overall (26-27)

Bo Pelini    At Nebraska (52-21)    Overall (52-21)
Edge: Nebraska. Pelini is on the hot seat in Lincoln. No question. A loss to Illinois won’t help matters. We don’t think Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst would pull a Pat Haden and fire Pelini in a parking lot outside Memorial Stadium, but a loss to the Illini won’t help Pelini’s cause. It’s a contrast in the two programs, too. A record like Pelini has during his tenure at Nebraska would have Illinois fans wanting to build a sculpture of him if he accomplished the same feats in Champaign. But this is the school that fired Frank Solich after a 9-3 regular season in 2003. Until Beckman can prove he is up to the task of taking down some of the prominent Big Ten schools, Illinois will have a hard time winning this category.

PREDICTION
Illinois will put points on the board in Lincoln. Plenty of them. But not at the rate the Illini have so far in three home games. And the defense will struggle to contain a balanced Cornhuskers offense. When you see the Illinois score scroll across the screen at various points Saturday, you will be surprised. Bill Cubit and Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck — whom Cubit coached when he was an assistant in the 1980s at Central Florida — will put on a clinic at times with their play-calling, but the real winner emerges with who can make the most stops. This advantage goes to the Cornhuskers, who, despite some suspect defense at times
this season, will limit Illinois just enough. And when it matters most. Illinois will keep it close going into the fourth quarter but can’t outscore Nebraska, falling 48-34. (N-G record: 3-1)
 

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nutleyillini wrote on October 04, 2013 at 7:10 am

Neb 42

ill 38