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Scouting Report: Illinois Fighting Illini vs Nebraska Cornhuskers

Friday night’s matchup is one of the most winnable games for the Illini this season

Illinois v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Everyone have a nice, relaxing, enjoyable bye week? We sure did. Did a little grocery shopping, washed the dishes, cleaned the living room, raked some leaves, scrubbed the bathtub, changed a few lightbulbs, dusted the china cabinet, let the dog out, fluffed the pillows, folded the laundry, replaced the batteries in our smoke detector, vacuumed the hallway, trimmed the bushes, swept the floors, emptied out the garbage cans, painted the house, fixed the shutters, ironed our dry cleaning, reorganized the dining room, sorted the bookshelf, baked a cake, watered the plants, and scheduled a dentist appointment.

Let’s just say we’re ready for football to return. Here’s our scouting report of the Nebraska Cornhuskers:

Last Meeting/Series History

In their last meeting, the Nebraska Cornhuskers defeated the Fighting Illini 31-16 in 2016 at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. The last meeting between these two teams in Champaign saw Illinois win 14-13 in 2015.

Nebraska is 10-3-1 all time against Illinois, 3-1 since joining the Big Ten in 2011.


Strengths

Nebraska can stop the run.

The Huskers hold the 25 best rushing defense in the country heading into Friday’s contest. Linebackers Luke Gifford, Dedrick Young, Chris Webber, and Marcus Newby make up four of the top five tacklers on Nebraska’s defense. Combined, they have 9 of Nebraska’s 18 run stuffs (rushes stopped at, or behind the line of scrimmage) and have held opponents to an average of 114.8 yards per game. The Huskers’ overall adjusted scoring average is 22.7 points per game according to S&P, which means...

Weaknesses

Nebraska can’t stop the pass, and they can’t get to the Quarterback

It’s no secret that Nebraska has struggled to defend against the pass over the last few seasons, and this year has been no different. The Huskers see their opponents pass 57.35% of the time during games (121 of 128), and surrender completions 66.01% of the time (107 of 128). That’s good for an average of 258.5 yards per game (6.8 yards per pass) given up through the air by the Nebraska defense. It should also be noted that Nebraska’s defensive line has the 6th worst sack ratio per play in all of college football. Teams have torched the Huskers through the air for a while now, and it’s a BIG sore spot in their defense.


What We’re Concerned About

Penalties and turnovers

After witnessing a historic evening of penalties in Tampa two Fridays ago, there is some concern regarding the Illini team discipline heading into this week’s game. It’s another Friday night game at home in front of a decent crowd, and a lot of people view this contest as one of Illinois’ most winnable in Big Ten conference play. On top of that, the Illini has suddenly become very turnover prone with a 5.95% turnover per play ratio. It’s clear that Illinois needs to throw the ball successfully to beat Nebraska Friday night. The question is, will they?

Why We’re Not Worried

Nebraska does those things too

One spot lower in the turnover per play ratio is (you guessed it) the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Big Red have a 6.16% turnover per play ratio, averaging 2.2 turnovers a game so far this year (103 of 128 teams). Tanner Lee has not been solid yet this season, and Nebraska has struggled to throw the ball efficiently with only a 52.05% completion percentage. Add to that a 5.5 average in penalties per game, and the Huskers could get in their own way on Friday night. Look for the Illini to exploit their 6.84% sack ratio during passing plays, adding more pressure on the already shaky Tanner Lee.