CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — In a season that was all about sustaining success, Illinois is falling well behind its expectations, case in point Friday night. Nebraska won its first Big Ten game of the Matt Rhule era beating Illinois 20-7 at Memorial Stadium, the second-straight week a first-year Big Ten coach has beat Illinois.
“I’ve been doing this 15 years and I’ve never been as frustrated as I am right now,” Illinois head coach Bret Bielema said after the game.
The Illini (2-4, 0-3 B1G) still haven’t won a conference game, outscored by an average of 18 points in its opening three league games. The issues that have plagued Illinois all season continued to show up against the Cornhuskers (3-3, 1-2) and for a coach and team that prides itself on limiting turnovers, penalties and mental errors, the Illini are struggling with all three. Illinois threw an interception, lost a fumble, had two failed 4th-and-one tries and had a punt blocked. Combine that with the Illini rushing for a total of 21 yards and losing time of possession 37:13 to 22:43 and it’s easy to see why the results haven’t been there for Illinois.
After taking the opening kickoff 14 plays for 74 yards, the Illini elected to go for it on fourth and inches, but Reggie Love III was turned away with the Huskers defense holding. Nebraska then marched 86 yards cashing in on a field goal to take an early lead in a game they never trailed in. Two second quarter touchdowns on a one-yard run from Anthony Grant and a 25-yard scamper from Heinrich Haarberg, blew the game open. A late Illini touchdown on a 46-yard pass play from Luke Altmyer to Pat Bryant closed the gap at half. Altmyer threw 49 times, completing 29 passes for 289 yards and a touchdown.
The Illini defense only allowed three more points in the game, with both teams trading turnovers in the second half. The Illinois offense the main concern though, averaging just 13 points in Big Ten games so far this season. Injuries are not helping the cause either, with starting guards Zy Crisler and Josh Gesky missing the Huskers game with injuries. Afterward, Bielema announced Josh McCray will be out the remainder of the season with an undisclosed injury that won’t require surgery.
Illinois now hits the road to face Maryland next Saturday for a 2:30 p.m. game in College Park.