The Illini open conference play on Saturday against Nebraska and it's possible they might catch a bit of a break while trying to end their 14-game Big Ten losing streak.
Taylor Martinez did not play in Nebraska's last game against South Dakota State because he was dealing with turf toe. Well, apparently he's still dealing with it and there's a slight chance he won't be able to play against the Illini this week.
"I think he's getting closer to being 100 percent," said Bo Pelini. "I think he's feeling better. We'll see as the week progresses."
Now, obviously, if Taylor Martinez can't play, that'd be a good thing for the Illini. Having watched this defense all season I've been pretty terrified of facing a dual threat quarterback -- actually, just a competent quarterback -- and Martinez is a very good one of those. And while backup Tommy Armstrong Jr. played well in Martinez's place last week -- 12/15, 169 yards passing, 38 yards rushing and a touchdown -- he played well against South Dakota State. I'd like to think that the Illini would be a tougher test for the redshirt freshman than the Jackrabbits were.
However, even if Martinez doesn't play, Armstrong might not need to do much. The Cornhuskers have three good running backs in Ameer Abdullah, Imani Cross and Terrell Newby. Through four games that trio has rushed for 873 yards and 10 touchdowns.
As things currently stand, the Illini rank 76th in the country allowing 4.31 yards per carry to opposing running backs. However, it's important to remember that the best back the Illini have faced this season, Washington's Bishop Sankey, rushed for 208 yards against the Illini in Chicago.
So while the obvious gameplan would be to stop the Nebraska rushing attack and force Tommy Armstrong to beat the Illini through the air -- which isn't that hard as the Illini are currently ranked 104th in the country in defensive pass efficiency -- that won't be easy to do.
So with or without Taylor Martinez odds are the Illini will have to win a shootout if they're going to take down Nebraska. Though that becomes only slightly easier to do if Martinez can't go, but I'll take whatever break we can get.
I really want that conference losing streak to come to an end.