Nebraska was expected to win big against a porous Illinois defense and win big it did. What looked like a barnburner early turned into a blowout late as the Huskers (3-7, 2-5 Big Ten) downed Illinois (4-6, 2-5 Big Ten) 54-35 for their third win in the last four.
Former Huskers quarterback AJ Bush went for two rushing scores on Illinois’ first two drives. Nebraska scored on each of its opening drives as well but defense looked optional on a frigid morning inside Memorial Stadium.
Then the turnovers started.
Illinois muffed two punts, safety Tre Neal forced another fumble out on a routine tackle and Bush was picked off by Aaron Williams first then Mick Stoltenberg late. For the third straight game, Nebraska forced at least three turnovers. The five total marked the most since a Sept. 10, 2016, game against Wyoming when the Blackshirts created six turnovers.
Nebraska turned four of those five into points.
Really, that was the difference.
With 606 yards of total offense on the day, the Huskers’ topped 600 for the second time this year and 500 for the fifth time this season. Nebraska hadn’t hit 500 five times in one season since 2000. It marked the seventh straight game the Huskers went over 450 yards. That had never been done.
In the third quarter of Game 9, Nebraska surpassed last season’s total yardage mark of 4,620 yards.
Running back Devine Ozigbo popped a career-long 66-yarder in the second quarter to put the Huskers up 31-14. The run gave him 2,000 for his career. He ripped another 60-yarder in the fourth quarter to put the nail in Illinois’ coffin and move within 42 yards of the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2014.
Wideout Stanley Morgan Jr. hauled in two touchdowns in the first half — one for 37 yards and one for 32 yards — to move past a few Husker greats and bump up to second on Nebraska’s career leaderboard for touchdown catches with 22. He finished the game with 132 yards on eight catches to bump his season total to 856 yards.
And then there’s the quarterback.
Freshman Adrian Martinez went 24-for-34 for 290 yards passing and three scores. He added another 55 yards and a score on 13 carries on the ground. With the 345-yard day overall, Martinez bumped his season total up to 2,747 yards of total offense and set a program record for total yards in a season by a freshman. He surpassed the previous record of 2,596 yards by
his father Taylor Martinez in 2010.
Basically, the offense had a good day. The 54 points scored marked a fourth-consecutive conference game topping 30. That hadn’t happened since 2001.
Even the special teams unit wanted to get in on the scoring action. On a day honoring the 100-year anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, Nebraska blocked a punt for the first time since World War I, forcing a safety. (Okay, it hasn’t been that long, just since 2015.)
Nebraska has been searching for a complete game all season. The defense gave up 383 rushing yards and too many points, something that will need to be addressed, but the offense has turned a corner to becoming strong enough to make up for less-than-stellar performances from the Blackshirts.
The Huskers are back in action next week at home against Michigan State. A kick time has yet to be announced for that game.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.