After going 250 days without Illini Football and a season without being allowed to attend games at Memorial Stadium, Illinois fans can celebrate on Saturday. Football is finally back!
The Fighting Illini will be taking on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Bret Bielema’s coaching debut.
(Note : This matchup was supposed to be played in Ireland but was shifted to Champaign due to COVID-19 concerns.)
Here are a few things to note before you tune into the game on Saturday.
Illinois 41, Nebraska 23
The matchup between the Illini and the Huskers was one of the bright spots for our team last season. It marked the return of Brandon Peters, who had missed almost a month due to COVID-19 protocols and also was Illinois’ first win in Lincoln since 1924.
It was a classic Lovie Smith game, as the Illini created 5 turnovers, preventing Nebraska from ever getting into a rhythm on offense. On the other side of the ball Illinois dominated the line of scrimmage, running for 285 yards with both Chase Brown and Mike Epstein running for over 100 yds. Overall, it was a comprehensive victory for the Illini who entered that matchup as 16-point underdogs.
3 Things to Watch Out For
Contrasting Coaching Storylines
Scott Frost is under the hot seat entering his fourth season coaching the Huskers, so he will be looking to start off the season with a much needed conference victory and set the tone for a bounce back season. Look out for the Huskers to come out with some aggressive plays on both sides of the ball to create momentum in what almost seems like a must win game for Frost.
On the other sideline the Illini will be marking the beginning of a new era with Coach Bielema’s debut. After stepping away from head coaching responsibilities the last few years in the NFL he may have to knock off some rust to get back to making in-game decisions. This will also be the first game for his entire coaching staff, so even small things such as communicating plays to the players on the field will have to be worked out as the game goes on. Ideally. the Illini would like to start off the season with a win for Bielema, but the bigger focus should be on creating rhythm and proper habits to build towards a sustainable program.
Isaiah Williams is making the swap to WR after joining the Illini as a 5-star QB recruit in 2019. With this transition he should be adding a dynamic element to our offense with his natural athletic ability. He has already showcased this in the snaps he had at QB last season but at WR he should have more opportunities in the open field. Look out for some special trick plays being called for One on Saturday.
Nebraska’s Defensive Front 7 vs. Illinois’ Offensive Line
The Illini will be looking to replicate their dominant rushing performance from last year’s matchup. Luckily Illinois has an experience mismatch it can exploit to dominate on the ground. The Huskers’ will be starting 4 underclassmen in their front 7, which will leave them susceptible against Illinois’ offensive line (5 seniors). Look for the Illinois offensive lineman to control the line of scrimmage and pave the way for the Illini running backs.