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Illinois vs. Nebraska 2016: Can Fighting Illini upend No. 15 Cornhuskers in Lincoln?

Nebraska has an undefeated 4-0 record on the year.

Nebraska v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Illinois football is back! It’s been nearly 14 days since Lovie Smith’s squad last took the field, but perhaps that’s a good thing considering their blowout loss to Western Michigan. Will that extra week of preparation be enough to get the team back on track? We’ll find out on Saturday when the Fighting Illini open Big Ten play against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

The Mike Riley era in Lincoln appears to be going somewhat well despite a rather tumultuous start last Fall. The Cornhuskers sit at No. 15 in both major national polls, and their undefeated 4-0 record includes wins over Oregon and Northwestern.

Illinois Fighting Illini Uniforms

The team captains have opted for a complete set of fire emojis White helmets, White jerseys, and White pants. Also, notice that the Navy face mask has been updated to match the rest of the uniform.

Nebraska Cornhuskers Scouting Report

Record: 4-0 | Second-order wins (diff.): 3.1 (-0.9) | S&P+ Rk: 23
Date Opponent Opp. S&P+ Rk Score W-L Win
Adj. Scoring
3-Sep Fresno State 103 43-10 W 100% 29.4 75% 68% 83%
10-Sep Wyoming 108 52-17 W 100% 23.3 78% 84% 76%
17-Sep Oregon 20 35-32 W 18% -8.0 63% 60% 69%
24-Sep at Northwestern 73 24-13 W 92% 12.4 81% 90% 50%

Tommy Armstrong Jr enters his senior season looking to bring the Huskers back to Indianapolis. Armstrong is a dual-threat quarterback with 49 carries on the year, and a completion rating of 56.6%. His favorite target has traditionally been Jordan Westerkamp, however the senior’s outstanding athleticism has caused defenses to double team him in coverage. This has provided more opportunities for sophomore Stanley Morgan Jr to become the team’s second-most targeted receiver.

Along with Armstrong’s throwing ability, he’s known to move the ball with his feet. His 49 carries are the 2nd most for the team this season, behind sophomore running back Devine Ozigbo. Look for Ozigbo and Terrell Newby to share the load running the football.

Nebraska’s defense is only giving up 18.0 points per game — good for No. 25 nationally in that category — and the unit currently sits at No. 42 in the S&P+ rankings. Senior defensive end Ross Dzuris leads Nebraska with 3.5 sacks on the year, and senior safety Nathan Gerry has a team-high 4.0 tackles-for-loss. Kieron Williams, a junior safety, has also recorded 24.0 tackles on the young season.

Nebraska’s returned all four of their starting defensive backs from last season, and they’ve already made a huge impact in the passing game. Through four games, the Cornhuskers have already hauled in 9 interceptions, which is just one shy of their 2015 season total. That’s quite a turnaround. So we may have an interesting matchup on our hands because the Illini coaching staff is encouraging Wes Lunt to take more chances through the air.

TCR Prediction: Nebraska 34, Illinois 16

FSH Projection: Nebraska 38.4, Illinois 22.6 (18% W)