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Nebraska Illinois Football
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Nebraska Illinois Football
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Nebraska Illinois Football
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Nebraska Illinois Football

Our report card after Saturday's 30-22 Illini win against Nebraska:

Player of the game:

Illinois quarterback Art Sitkowski

➜ Game. Managed. Thrust into the lineup after Brandon Peters went down with an injury to his left (non-throwing) arm, Sitkowski didn’t let Illinois get off course. He only turned in one real highlight play, but the Rutgers transfer completed 12 of 15 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns while not turning the ball over. (Thanks to a pair of Nebraska penalties for keeping it a clean sheet). Can’t ask for much more than that.

Offense

Illinois: A | Nebraska: C-

➜ Sitkowski was steady, solid. Mike Epstein made the most of his return with 75 rushing yards and a touchdown. And Isaiah Williams was the versatile weapon everyone hoped he would become for the Illini. Adrian Martinez had himself a game for the Cornhuskers. If you only look at the statistics. Racking up 343 yards of total offense and a pair of touchdowns looks good. But he only completed 50 percent of his passes and got the bulk of his rushing yards on a singe play.

Defense

Illinois: A- | Nebraska: F

➜ This was not the Illini defense fans watched the previous five seasons. Or the Illini defense the fans might have expected given all the discussion about new coordinator Ryan Walters running a 3-4. There was some of that, but the 2-4-5 look with a nickel back on the field helped slow down Nebraska’s spread offense just enough for the win. The Cornhuskers, meanwhile, allowed an Illinois offense that hit the 30-point mark just once last year (also against Nebraska) to put up that many points in just three quarters.

Special teams

Illinois: A- | Nebraska: F

➜ Yes, James McCourt did miss a field goal, but it was a 57-yard attempt. Otherwise? The Illini special teams was on point. Blake Hayes pinned Nebraska deep on several punts and created the first points of the game with Kerby Joseph the opportunistic gunner for a safety. The Cornhuskers were decidedly bad on special teams, with the misplayed punt turned safety and a pair of missed PATs from Connor Culp.

Coaching

Illinois: A | Nebraska: F

➜ Walters’ defense showed an ability to pressure the quarterback and be opportunistic defensively. Offensive coordinator Tony Petersen managed to pivot after Peters’ injury. And “the lads” on special teams came through. Bret Bielema’s staff got it done. Scott Frost’s? Not so much. The Cornhuskers finished with more turnovers and more penalties than Illinois, with the latter extending some Illinois drives and crippling some for Nebraska.

Overall

Illinois: A- | Nebraska: F

➜ Illinois really couldn’t have asked for more in their season opener and the first game of the Bielema era in Champaign. Not only was it a win, but it was a divisional Big Ten win. Not only did the Illini get dealt some diversity, but they dealt with it. Illinois wasn’t perfect — it took the full 60 minutes to put Nebraska away — but a Week 0 win is a significantly better launching pad into the rest of the season than the alternative.

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