LINCOLN, Neb. (WCIA) — Illinois had two 100 yard rushers against Nebraska Saturday, but it was a run from punter Blake Hayes that was a big reason for the win.
The fake punt let Illinois keep the ball on their second half opening drive. They kept it for 13 more plays before James McCourt kicked a field goal. If Hayes had punted it, the Illini would have gone three and out. He says he is lucky he made it, because the coaching staff was not necessarily in on the decision to go for it.
“I have to wait for Coach Smith to give me the green light, depending on the looks they give us,” says Hayes. “I didn’t actually get the green light so I might be in trouble for that. I’m just thankful I got the first down because if I didn’t it might be a different story.”
Defense was another big reason for the Illini win. After sputtering in the first few games, they had their engines revving again. As a team Illinois is tied for third in the nation with 17 total takeaways, the two teams ahead of them have played more games.
After adding an interception and fumble recovery Saturday, senior linebacker Jake Hansen is the team leader in both categories and forced fumbles. Hansen says they are headed to the film room to try and keep the performances rolling against the Buckeyes.
“Obviously Justin Fields is a great player,” says Hansen. “I actually did just see Indiana got after them a little bit. We’ll try and see what they did, maybe look at that and get better. Hopefully our secondary and back seven can stack another game like this.”
Illinois is a 30-point underdog against No. 3 Ohio State. That game will be at 11 a.m. Saturday.