Game notes: A game-altering mistake? Perhaps

Game notes: A game-altering mistake? Perhaps

CHAMPAIGN — The nature of Illinois' defense — and maybe the game — changed the first time it took the field Friday night against Nebraska.

Three plays into the Cornhuskers' first offensive drive of the game, Illinois freshman free safety Bennett Williams was flagged for targeting and ejected. That turned a third down into a first down for Nebraska, and six plays later, De'Mornay Pierson-El turned a slant route into a 45-yard touchdown reception.

The Cornhuskers never trailed again, running off a 28-6 victory against Illinois.

"We got them in a favorable third and long situation, and then we get that targeting penalty," Illinois coach Lovie Smith said. "That's too many times we've been called for that. Simple as that. We've got to lower our target.

"From there, when you lose your safety, we didn't play as well at other positions — and that one — as we needed to. They were able to run the football, and when they wanted to pass it they were able to do that, too."

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Lee entered Friday night's game with nine interceptions through Nebraska's first four games. That included five in the Cornhuskers' last two games, of which three of them were returned for touchdowns by the opposing defense.

Lee's follow-up was a 17 of 24 passing performance for 246 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions against Illinois. The Tulane transfer was helped by countless receivers easily shedding their coverage.

Illinois sophomore free safety Stanley Green put that on the Illini defense.

"It was on us," he said. "They weren't better than us. We just had to execute better as a whole. It wasn't anything they did. It was on us."

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Illinois was able to get better pressure on Lee in the second half. Redshirt senior defensive end James Crawford had a strip sack early in the third quarter, although Nebraska was able to recover the fumble.

Tre Watson and Del'Shawn Phillips finished with half a sack each, while Watson and Crawford each had a quarterback hurry.

"We blitzed him a few more times, but we should have played better in the first half," Smith said. "Now, what we did in the second half isn't standing out as much."

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The Illinois offense wasn't quite as productive as Nebraska's. The Illini gained just 199 yards of total offense, which averages out to 3.8 yards per play for the 58 plays run. Top wide receivers Malik Turner and Mikey Dudek combined for five receptions and didn't get many more looks.

"I don't think they really took us out of the game or took us away from plays," said Turner, who led the Illini receivers with three receptions, while Dudek had a team-high 37 yards on two catches.

"We were able to connect a couple times, but there were just a couple misses down the field," Turner continued. "We have to just straighten that out."

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Illinois also has to straighten out its offense in the red zone. A pair of Chase McLaughlin field goals were the only Illini points. They both came after the Illinois offense got inside Nebraska's 10-yard line.

"Realistically it is a setback whether it feels like it or not," Illinois quarterback Chayce Crouch said. "As an offense, we're going to come out each possession and keep pushing and keep going and just wait for (the defense) to crack and us to get in (the end zone). Realistically, it is a setback when you're only getting three points opposed to seven."

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MasterOfTheObvious wrote on September 30, 2017 at 6:09 am

Game Altering Mistake... from the first 5 minutes?  What a total loser attitude. If you can't rebound from losing one guy with 55 minutes to go in a 60 minute game, you're lost.  Pretty poor analysis here, from someone looking for excuses.