Nebraska has struggled in losses to Oregon and Northern Illinois and had trouble in wins against Arkansas State and Rutgers. But the Huskers are road favorites at Illinois, as MyBookie has Nebraska as a 6.5-point favorite.
Nebraska has a strong historic edge against Illinois, as the Huskers lead 10-3-1. The programs first met in 1892, when Nebraska won 6-0. The Huskers and Illini met seven times between 1892 and 1925, but then the schools played only three games between 1926 and 2013.
Since joining the Big Ten, Nebraska has won three of the four meetings. The Huskers beat the Illini 39-19 in 2013, 45-14 in 2014 and 31-16 in 2016. Illinois picked up a 14-13 win in 2015. In that game, QB West Lunt hit WR Geronimo Allison for a 1-yard touchdown with 10 seconds to play. The Illini drove 72 yards in only 41 seconds to get the winning score. That win was Illinois’ first against the Huskers since 1924.
The Huskers have had a wild first four weeks of the season. Nebraska is 2-2 going into Friday’s Big Ten game. The Huskers also fired AD Shawn Eichorst days after losing to Northern Illinois. The Huskers are led by third-year coach Mike Riley. Nebraska beat Arkansas State 43-36 and Rutgers 27-17 but lost to Oregon 42-35 and Northern Illinois 21-17.
“Shawn has led Nebraska Athletics in many positive ways, but those efforts have not translated into on-field performance,” Nebraska Chancellor Ronnie Green said in an official release. “Our fans and our student-athletes deserve leadership that drives the highest levels of competitiveness, as well as excellence across all facets of Husker Athletics.”
“While I am deeply disappointed in the decision today, I am grateful for the wonderful years that my family and I have spent at Nebraska,” Eichorst said in a statement. “I am proud of how our student-athletes, coaches and staff represented this great university and state, and I am confident that the future is bright for Nebraska Athletics.”
Through four games, Nebraska is averaging 30.5 points and giving up 29 points per game.
Nebraska QB Tanner Lee is 76-for-146 passing for 898 yards, 7 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Lee’s favorite targets are Stanley Morgan and De’Mornay Pierson-El. Morgan leads the team with 18 catches for 299 yards and 3 touchdowns. Pierson-El has 17 receptions for 210 yards and 3 scores.
Defensively, LB Luke Gifford ranks first on the team with 28 total tackles. Gifford also has 2 tackles for loss and 1 interception. But the Huskers defense has only 3 sacks in four games.
Illinois is 2-1 ahead of Friday’s Big Ten opener, averaging 22.3 points while giving up 25 points per game. The Illini are led by second-year coach Lovie Smith. He’s used two quarterbacks so far this season. Chayce Crouch is 32-for-62 for 328 yards, 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions. Crouch also has 56 rushing yards and 1 touchdown. Jeff George, Jr., is 12-for-22 for 211 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions.
WR Mike Dudek is the quarterbacks’ top target. After missing the last two seasons because of ACL injuries, Dudek leads the Illini with 14 catches and 158 receiving yards.
On the ground, freshman Mike Epstein paces the rushing game. Epstein has 40 carries for 221 yards with 3 touchdowns.
Illinois had an extra week to prepare for Friday’s game, as the Illini didn’t play in Week 4. Illinois got to 2-1 by beating Ball State 24-21 and Western Kentucky 20-7. The Illini then lost on the road to ranked South Florida, 47-23.
On defense, LB Del’Shawn Phillips is first on the team with 32 total tackles. Freshman defensive lineman Bobby Roundtree has 3 sacks to lead the unit.
Illinois will also be celebrating the members of its inaugural Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame class. Legend Dick Butkus is among those to be honored.