Upon further review: Illini can't take advantage of 'wounded' Cornhuskers

Upon further review: Illini can't take advantage of 'wounded' Cornhuskers

Beat writer Bob Asmussen digs deeper into Illini's 28-6 loss to Nebraska: First impression
— That's two games in a row for Illinois with lackluster efforts and lopsided scores. The blowout at South Florida was understandable. The Bulls are a Top-25 team and on their way to a New Year's Day Bowl.

But this year's Nebraska team came in wounded and in trouble. Its coach might not last the season and the usually-polite fans are booing.
Illinois had a chance to put together a home winning streak against a team it hadn't beaten from 1924 to 2015.

— Two years ago, Bill Cubit beat Nebraska at home. The Illini could have used players like Wes Lunt and Geronimo Allison on Friday night.

— The Illini Hall of Famers were introduced at halftime and it was a very nice moment. The warmest applause, of course, was for superstar linebacker Dick Butkus.

Too bad the team couldn't have given the Hall of Famers a better show. Maybe schedule next year's induction ceremonies against a less-challenging opponent.

— Friday night football doesn't bother me. Of course, it might cause some conflicts for the high-school teams. But some of them schedule games on Saturday.

In the future, Illinois should limit its Friday games to one per season. Two seems a bit excessive.Folks back in Nebraska were reportedly angry with the Friday night move. Given the other problems with the program (see Fourth Estate) they need to relax. — Great to see so many Nebraskans come to town for the game. It helped that tickets were easy to come by. The Champaign-Urbana economy got a boost and we always like that. Of the remaining home games, Wisconsin will bring a fair share of fans. Don't count on much from Rutgers. Not sure about Indiana and Northwestern. Second guessing— Illini safety Bennett Williams got called for targeting on Nebraska's opening drive. The penalty helped the Huskers keep possession and eventually score a touchdown. In a close game, at least early, that was a killer for Illinois momentum.

The coaches should bring the players in Monday, show them all three targeting penalties called against the Illini this year, then go on the field to fix it. Not only did the team lose 15 yards, but it lost Williams for the rest of the game. He was hoping for a big night against Tanner Lee, but instead had to sit in the locker room. — The conservative play-calling started early for the Illini. On its opening drive, they banged out a couple of first downs to move to their 44. Three plays later, they faced fourth-and-1 at the Nebraska 46. Fans were certainly thinking "Go for it." but out came the punt team. Nebraska scored on its opening drive and never trailed. Third degree— Earlier in the week, Lovie Smith called Jeff George Jr. his "Relief hitter." Batter up.
Chayce Crouch ran well, but struggled again with his passing. He threw for just 99 yards, was sacked five times and had an interception.

Given how well George played in the second half against South Florida, he deserved a series or two, especially after Nebraska took control.
Smith was asked about George not being used and didn't come up with much of an explanation.
— Maybe playing a bunch of young guys isn't the way to go. Smith enhanced the youth movement Friday night, starting Jamal Woods for the first time and playing receiver Carmoni Green.

Two years from now, the freshmen will be a lot better. If they don't get too bummed out by the failures. We will learn a lot about the guys when they return to the field against Iowa, which is more than capable of blowing the doors off the young team.
— Nebraska's offense, which sputtered at times earlier in the season, was humming right along. Part of the credit, of course, goes to Mike Riley's guys. And part of the blame falls on the Illinois defense.

— Kendrick Foster has been a fine player for the Illini and deserves to be on the field. But the coaches need to rethink having him handle kickoff returns. Two dropped balls that could meant disaster. Fourth estate
Steve Sipple has been working at the Lincoln Journal-Star since 1990. Now the newspaper's sports columnist, he has plenty to write about this season.

The Nebraska athletic program's on-field struggles, especially in football, led to the firing of AD Shawn Eichorst.

"When you get an AD fired this early in the season, it's going to create a lot of discomfort," Sipple said. "There's a lot of uncertainty now. Everything feels a little bit precarious. You do't know where it's going."

There is some clarity for Sipple when it comes to Nebraska football coach Riley.

"It's pretty clear to me that Mike has to win X amount of games." Sipple said. "It stands to reason. He's in job-saving mode right now. No one has said this officially, but you'd think he'd have to get to seven or eight wins."

Nebraska's performance in all sports has been below expectations.

"Every year, the Journal Star compiles the average finish of all teams and Nebraska has been ninth the last two years," Sipple said. "They're down deep in those standings."

At Nebraska, football decides the fate of the AD.

"There's a lot of the fan base that really backs Mike and is patient with Mike," Sipple said. "That's why the firing of the AD was a little peculiar to me. It just felt like a non-confidence vote the head guy. It indicates there are issues for sure."

One issue at Nebraska was Eichorst and Riley's push to get Nebraska out of its traditional Black Friday game. For years, the school has been playing football the day after Thanksgiving — first against Oklahoma, then Colorado and now, Iowa.

But upcoming Big Ten schedules have moved Nebraska away from that date.

"It didn't seem like (Eichorst) understood the magnitude of it," Sipple said. "It was kind of a jolt."

The next AD, whoever that is, might be asked to resume the Black Friday tradition.

Several have been mentioned for the AD job. The question is whether or not Nebraska picks one of its own.

If is does, Omaha AD Trev Alberts would be a possibility. He was a start linebacker at Nebraska.

"I like the idea of Trev Alberts as AD because his experience would be helpful," Sipple said. "He's been UNO's athletic director since 2009. It's been a rocky road. He got rid of wrestling and football and it angered people. He's got his nose bloodied. I love that."

If Nebraska makes a change in football, Central Florida coach Scott Frost will be near the top of the list.

"Great appeal to a lot of fans and I can see why," Sipple said.

Five burning questions1. How big of a favorite will Iowa be against the Illini next week at Kinnick Stadium?The Hawkeyes had a big game at Michigan State on Saturday. But they will be fired up to play again at home. Iowa City has been a rough spot for the Illini in recent years. Even Ron Zook's Rose Bowl team lost there.

2. Is there a quarterback controversy?Depends who you ask. The fans are going to grow impatient with a quarterback who can't complete passes. It is a very good thing that Chayce Crouch is a dual-threat quarterback. But that doesn't matter when one of the threats isn't working. Nebraska loaded the box and dared Crouch to beat them with his arm. He couldn't.

3. Is Mikey Dudek being used enough?He is healthy again after two seasons lost to knee injuries. And he got off to a good start. But he caught just two passes for 37 yards on Friday. That isn't enough work. Nebraska found ways to get the ball to its playmakers. lllinois needs to do the same.

4. What does Illinois need to do to put more pressure on the quarterback?The team had just two sacks against Nebraska and didn't intercept a pass from a guy who had nine picks this season. Lee looked very comfortable in the backfield. Like he was ready to kick back in a recliner and watch TV. Somewhere, Simeon Rice is frowning.

5. What's going on with the Illini offensive line?Jordan Fagan started in place of Gabe Megginson. The other four starters remained the same. We had heard rumors that freshman Vederian Lowe would split time with Larry Boyd, but he never got off the bench. The Illini gained just 93 rushing yards and averaged 2.5 yards per try. That is not going to cut it in the Big Ten.


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

Even Beckman figured out that Butkus was a below average OL coach and fired him, but here he is again, because he is the AD's buddy.  OL sucked with Butkus version 1.0, and version 2.0 is no better.

McGee is also a curious pick as OC as he was a bad HC at UAB, who left his team with time left on his contract to seek out more $ with the worst human in college football, Bobby Petrino.

Smith is an obvious target, as he simply has no experience in dealing with non-elite talent at the NFL level.  The NFL is not College Football, and Smith is not adjusting to his talents.  The new Big Ten coaches at Purdue and Minnesota were much better hires and will long be better producers in their West Division homes than Smith with the Illini.  Once Nebraska brings back Frost, who is Illinois going to be better than in our own division?

Meet the new Boss, same as the Old Boss.  


Moonpie wrote on September 30, 2017 at 9:09 am

That's it--revive the playing freshmen alibi to give Lovie Dovie cover. Nothing is ever his fault--just ask him!

When are ya learned Gazoo fellas going to tell it like it is and drop the cheerleader pom pons? llinois gets mediocre players, arrogant and lethargic coaches, and ought to transfer to the MAC.Crouch might be a tight end at best. QB? Not so much.

The Lazy Gazoo demands blind allegiance to this train wreck? That's the real story.

Rocky7 wrote on September 30, 2017 at 4:09 pm

Mr. Asmussen,

Wasn't Illinois supposed to win 24-20 according to your pregame prediction?