UFR: Wow, Jonathan Brown
Staff writer Bob Asmussen's take on Saturday's contest
— Wow, Ameer Abdullah is good. He posted 225 yards Saturday, a career best. Not the biggest running back, he gains plenty of yards after contact.
How good is the Nebraska running back tradition? Abdullah’s big day isn’t among the school’s single-game Top 10. He scored twice, including a 43-yard run.
— Jonathan Brown is good enough to play for any team in the country. Early on against Nebraska, the senior linebacker looked ready to make every tackle. Illinois is being reminded this year how much it missed him in 2012.
— Nice of ESPNU to check in with Mike Hopkins, the former Illini who’s on the International Space Station. The one-time defensive back gave a shoutout to his alma mater — in a video posted on Tim Beckman’s Twitter account (@coachbeckman) this week — from about as far away as possible. He is the first former Illini football player to be in space. Unless you count Simeon Rice.
— The fumble by Donovonn Young went to the replay official in the first quarter. Young’s drop was confirmed and became a big play for the struggling Nebraska defense. Had Young held on, the halftime score would have been closer than the 18-point Illinois deficit.
— Maybe the wind made it an impossible decision. But going for it on fourth down at the end of the first quarter really hurt the Illinois momentum. To his credit, Nathan Scheelhaase found an open receiver on fourth and 14, but Steve Hull dropped the ball. A third-down sack by Nebraska hurt the Illini. Bad.
— There was a one-time Illini making a bunch of plays for the Nebraska defense Saturday. Former Proviso East All-Stater Corey Cooper is a key part of the Nebraska secondary. Wonder if he regrets moving away from Illinois to play in Lincoln. The guess here is no.
— Where were the trick plays from Illinois? Bill Cubit’s guys certainly had plenty in the game plan. But Nebraska looked more creative offensively. You can’t live with trick plays alone, but Illinois allowed Nebraska’s defense to think less and play faster.
— Nebraska was rolling in the first half behind starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. After two drives for two touchdowns, the Huskers switched to senior backup Ron Kellogg III. The plan going in was to play both for injured Taylor Martinez. Most coaches would have reconsidered the plan after Armstrong started so well. Kellogg led the team to a field goal on his drive, but a touchdown would have been devastating to Illinois. Scheelhaase moved the team to its first score, a field goal, on its next possession.
— Hey, Big Ten, why did you have to change the schedule? Originally, Illinois was supposed to be at Ohio State this week for a game against the Buckeyes. But when the schedule got flipped a few years back, a trip to Lincoln replaced the trip to Ohio Stadium for the Illini. Not that playing the Buckeyes would have been much of a bargain. But at least the fans could have taken in part of the Presidents Cup, with former Illini Steve Stricker, at historic Muirfield Village.
— Nebraska will be fine with or without Martinez. Well, until early November. Nebraska plays Purdue next week and has the next Saturday off. Martinez can rest his turf toe and be back for the final six games of the season.
— Before he became a big-time college head coach, Bo Pelini served as Nebraska’s defensive coordinator. During that time, he developed a friendly, working relationship with Lincoln Journal-Star reporter Steve Sipple.
During more than two decades covering Nebraska sports, Sipple learned the importance of sources. While the head coach is always the official spokesman for the team, the assistants are the ones who know how the soup is made.
“(Pelini) left in 2003 and we stayed in touch, never knowing he would come back, never dreaming he would come back,” Sipple said.
Pelini has been good to Sipple, who took over as columnist in 2007.
“We butt heads,” Sipple said. “Because we know each other so well, he feels very comfortable yelling at me.”
— Is Pelini’s tenure in trouble? Sipple doesn’t think so. At the end of the day, he said, the only opinion that matters is Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst’s.
“If you take the temperature here, there’s clearly pressure on Bo. That’s the best way to put it. He knows that. They’ve had some bad losses. But it is not a cut-and-dried thing. They’ve done a lot.”
The fans have supported Pelini. Generally.
Not everybody in Nebraska is happy with him.
“There is a real vocal minority,” Sipple said. “It’s shrill. Their voice gets loud. That’s always an issue. There’s a lot of grumbling.”
The defense, Pelini’s specialty, has been the biggest complaint.
“A lot of the focus is on that,” Sipple said. “The defense has really struggled. They are struggling with really basic things.”
Since the end of the Tom Osborne era in 1997, Nebraska has fired two coaches.
Pelini has won at least nine games every year as head coach.
“I think Bo has done enough to have some leeway,” Sipple said. “Barring a collapse, barring a five-, six-win season, I don’t think he would be in danger.”
IN THE STADIUM
— Those red balloons are as much of a tradition at Nebraska as the 51-year sellout streak. Sold on streets near the stadium, the red orbs are released after the first Nebraska score. On Saturday, it only took one drive by the Cornhuskers.
— Jack Hoffman, a young cancer patient who won an ESPY for his Nebraska spring game touchdown, was honored during Saturday’s game.
— Tom Hart and John Congemi did a nice job calling the game on ESPNU. They got the names right. They were objective to a fault. And they didn’t dwell on the long Illinois conference losing streak. Give them an A.