Nebraska will look to reverse past trends against Illinois this weekend.
Not only will the Huskers hope to earn revenge on an Illinois team that blew them out in 2020, but they’ll look to start head coach Scott Frost’s fourth season off with a crucial win.
“In years past I think we haven’t necessarily shot right out of the gates the way we needed to, and that’s an emphasis for us,” junior quarterback Adrian Martinez said on Monday. “We have to be ready to go, first drive of the game, first quarter, and it’s a Big Ten opponent.”
Martinez isn’t wrong about the past results. After the Akron game was canceled to start the season in 2018, the Huskers lost to Colorado at home in Frost’s first game at the helm of the Huskers.
The next year, a ranked Nebraska team won its first game, but even that ended up underwhelming. South Alabama only lost by two scores, kept the game close through three quarters and went on to be one of the worst teams in the Sun Belt.
“We’re ranked in the top 25 but we certainly didn’t look like that type of team today,” Frost said after that win.
Finally, the Huskers were blown out by Ohio State to start the 2020 season. They weren’t expected to beat a team ranked in the top five, but the 35-point loss still added to Nebraska’s starting stumbles.
In particular, those struggles have mainly come on offense and taking care of the football. The Huskers have totaled eight turnovers in three season openers under Frost, including three each in 2018 and 2019.
Illinois, although now under a different coach, has been a magnet for Husker turnovers as well. The Fighting Illini forced four in a loss to Nebraska in 2019, then grabbed five takeaways in last year’s blowout.
The personnel on the field and sideline from those games will look much different, but Nebraska has continued to put a large focus on buckling down and playing disciplined. Senior linebacker JoJo Domann said that emphasis is also higher because it’s a Week 0 game, and the Huskers will be starting their season off with a conference matchup for the second straight season.
“It’s Week 0, we don’t get a warm up game or a tee-up game,” he said. “This is good-on-good off the rip, so it’s about who plays fundamental football, who’s disciplined and who makes the most turnovers.”
How the team starts hasn’t made much of a difference in how it finishes so far in Frost’s tenure. However, with a tough overall schedule this year, it could be important for Nebraska to put together a complete performance against one of its weaker conference opponents before heading into nonconference play.
“This is why you are at Nebraska. The light show and cameras are always here. They have to be ready for that. We just can not let that overwhelm anybody because it is the first week of college football just to kick everything off,” junior defensive back Cam Taylor-Britt said. “Everybody needs to stay locked in. Do not jump into the hype.
“We really have to get this one. I want to so bad.”