Beat writer SCOTT RICHEY breaks down five hot topics ahead of the 7 p.m. kickoff against Nebraska:
Can’t make it to Memorial Stadium? The game will be aired on BTN with Kevin Kugler (play-by-play), Matt Millen (analysis) and Rick Pizzo (sideline reports) on the call. For a 7 p.m. game that both coaches would rather see played earlier in the day. “I don’t like night games,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost told reporters this week. “I’m ready to get it going in the morning and have some time at home after the game and be rested on Sunday.” Lovie Smith was of a similar mind. “I think in an ideal world most of the guys would say they’d rather get up and play the game,” the Illinois coach said. “I like that, too. But I think there’s something to be said about primetime and having an opportunity to play.”
The 16-member Illinois Hall of Fame class was inducted Friday night at State Farm Center, but the group will be recognized again at halftime of Saturday night’s game. That group includes four former Illini football greats in Bobby Mitchell, Simeon Rice, David Williams and the late J.C. Caroline. The newest Hall of Fame inductees will also be available from 5 to 6 p.m. in the Varsity I Autograph Tent in Grange Grove.
The NCAA tracks penalty leaders by fewest committed. Wisconsin, which also has yet to give up a single point this season, leads the list with five penalties. Illinois? Well, the Illini are significantly further down the list, tied with Syracuse and Washington State for 116th with 25 penalties committed. The Illini’s 253 penalty yards also rank 126th nationally, and the offensive penalties committed were a factor in the Week 3 loss to Eastern Michigan. “We can’t play behind the chains,” Illinois offensive coordinator Rod Smith said. “It’s tough. You’ve got to be ahead. There’s not many game plans that are good for third-and-15, and we were third-and-15 all day it seemed like. ... I told the offense (Monday), ‘We are our own worst enemy right now. We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot with penalties, turnovers and taking sacks.’”
A Cornhuskers-heavy crowd by the end of the Sept. 29, 2017, Illinois-Nebraska game in Champaign serenaded the road team off Zuppke Field with chants of “Go Big Red!” following a 28-6 victory by the ‘Huskers where Tanner Lee threw for three touchdowns and the only Illinois points came on two Chase McLaughlin field goals. The Illinois-Nebraska game in Champaign before that is a happier memory for Illini fans, and the image of Geronimo Allison — kneeling in the end zone, arms akimbo after catching the winning touchdown pass from Wes Lunt on Oct. 3, 2015 — remains the high point of the brief Bill Cubit era.
Predicting the future
Nebraska opened as nothing more than a single-touchdown favorite before the line jumped to double digits as the week progressed. It’s a sign that there’s some faith in the Cornhuskers after they took care of business at home against a MAC team (44-8 victory against Northern Illinois) and less in the Illini who couldn’t do the same (34-31 loss to Eastern Michigan). The way EMU quarterback Mike Glass III picked apart the Illinois defense with his arm and legs doesn’t bode well with a better dual-threat quarterback coming to town in Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez.
Cornhuskers 42, Illini 21