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The Matchup: Huskers vs. the Fighting Illini at 11 a.m. tomorrow

Nebraska City News-Press

NEBRASKA vs. ILLINOIS

NOV. 21, 2020 | MEMORIAL STADIUM

LINCOLN, NEB. | 11 A.M. (CT)

BROADCAST INFO

TV - FS1 (Brian Custer, Robert Smith)

RADIO - Husker Sports Network (Greg Sharpe, Matt Davison, Ben McLaughlin)

SATELLITE RADIO - XM 195, Sirius 133

INTERNET RADIO - Huskers.com, TuneIn.com

APP AUDIO - Official Huskers App, TuneIn App

HUSKERS

Record: 1-2, 1-2 Big Ten

Last Game: vs. Penn State (W, 30-23)

Rankings: NR

Coach: Scott Frost

Career/NU Record: 29-24 (5th Year)/10-17 (3rd Year) 

vs. Illinois: 2-0

FIGHTING ILLINI

Record: 1-3, 1-3 Big Ten

Last Game: at Rutgers (23-20)

Rankings: NR

Coach: Lovie Smith

Career/ILL Record: 16-37 (5th Year)/Same

vs. Nebraska: 0-4

The Matchup

Nebraska plays the second of three 2020 home games on Saturday, as the Huskers remain home to take on Big Ten West Division foe Illinois at Memorial Stadium. Saturday's game will kick off shortly after 11 a.m. with the game televised nationally on FS1.

Nebraska comes into the game with a 1-2 record following a hard-fought 30-23 victory over Penn State on Saturday in Lincoln. The Huskers took a 27-6 lead into halftime after an inspired effort in the first 30 mintues, including two defensive takeaways. Nebraska then held on with two defensive stops inside the 15 in the final five minutes to secure its first victory of the 2020 season. Redshirt freshman quarterback Luke McCaffrey made his first career start in the win and accounted for 219 yards of total offense. 

Illinois comes to Lincoln with a 1-3 record, following a 23-20 victory at Rutgers on Saturday afternoon. The Illini rolled up 341 rushing yards in the victory and dominated the second half, posting better than 300 yards of total offense after intermission. The Fighting Illini victory came after they had previously dropped games against Big Ten West teams Wisconsin, Purdue and Minnesota to open the season. 

The Fighting Illini are guided by Lovie Smith, who is in his fifth season as the head coach. Smith previously spent 11 seasons as a head coach in the National Football League.

Nebraska carries a four-game win streak in the series into Saturday's matchup. The last two meetings have been high-scoring affairs with the teams combining for 89 points in a 2018 matchup in Lincoln and 80 points in a Husker come-from-behind win a year ago in Champaign. 

Series History

Nebraska leads the all-time series with Illinois, 13-3-1. The Huskers are 6-1 against the Illini since joining the Big Ten Conference in 2011. 

• Nebraska has won the past four meetings with Illinois, including 2016 and 2018 victories at Memorial Stadium. The four-game win streak is the longest for Nebraska against any Big Ten opponent. 

• Nebraska posted a 54-35 victory over Illinois in 2018. The 54 points ties for the most Nebraska has scored in a conference game in its 10 years in the Big Ten. 

• Nebraska and Illinois are scheduled to open the season against each other in both 2021 and 2025. The schools are set to meet in Dublin, Ireland, in Week Zero in 2021, and open the 2025 campaign with a matchup in Champaign.

• Before joining the Big Ten, Nebraska and Illinois last met in a home-and-home series in 1985 and 1986, with the Huskers winning both of those matchups.

Big Red Offense has Put Up Big Numbers vs. Illinois

Nebraska and Illinois are meeting for the eighth consecutive season and for the eighth time overall as Big Ten Conference opponents. During the first seven meetings, the Husker offense has found success against the Illini, especially the past two seasons under Scott Frost.

• Last season, Nebraska totaled 674 yards against Illinois which is the Huskers' highest offensive output ever in a Big Ten Conference game. NU threw for 327 yards and rushed for 362 in last year's meeting, which marked only the second time in program history - and the only time in a conference game - that Nebraska has totaled 300 yards passing and rushing in the same game.

• In Frost's first meeting against the Illini in 2018, Nebraska scored 54 points, to match the Huskers' highest point total in a Big Ten Conference game. Nebraska accumulated 606 yards of total offense in the 2018 meeting.

• Nebraska has played 79 Big Ten Conference games. The Huskers have amassed 600 yards of offense four times in those 79, with three of those efforts coming against Illinois (2014, 2018, 2019).

• The Huskers have been particularly strong in the running game against Illinois. In the seven meetings between the programs as Big Ten Conference foes, Nebraska has averaged 287 rushing yards per game. Nebraska has produced seven 100-yard rushing performances in the seven Big Ten games with Illinois, including a pair of 200-yard efforts in back-to-back seasons by Ameer Abdullah in 2013 and 2014.

• The offense has been even stronger at Memorial Stadium. The teams have played four games in Lincoln since Nebraska joined the Big Ten, and the Huskers have averaged 42 points, 328 rushing yards and 544 yards of offense in those four contests.

• Individually, Adrian Martinez has put up gaudy statistics against Illinois. In two career starts, Martinez has completed 46-of-68 (.676) passes for 618 yards and six touchdowns, while rushing 31 times for 173 yards and one score. In the past two seasons, Martinez has accounted for 791 yards of total offense himself, nearly matching Illinois' team output (808 yards). Martinez had a career-high 445 yards of total offense in the 2019 matchup, the third-highest total in Husker history. Martinez threw for 327 yards and rushed for 118 yards to post just the second 300-yard passing and 100-yard rushing game in program history.

• The offensive success against Illinois goes back even further, as Nebraska put up 111 points, 1,099 total yards and 926 rushing yards in the last two non-conference matchups between the two programs in 1985 and 1986. The Huskers had more than 450 yards rushing, 540 total yards and scored over 50 points in each of those two meetings.

NEBRASKA'S BIG TEN SCHOOL RECORDS VS. ILLINOIS

• Points: 54 (2018)    

• Total Yards: 674 (2019)

• Rushing Yards: 458 (2014)

• Individual Rushing Yards: 225 (Ameer Abdullah, 2013)

• Individual Total Offense: 445 (Adrian Martinez, 2019)

Quarterback Duo Providing Running Threat

Nebraska quarterbacks Adrian Martinez and Luke McCaffrey have each guided the Husker offense to success in 2020. A big part of that success has been the running ability of the quarterback tandem. 

• Nebraska ranks fifth in the Big Ten and 37th nationally in rushing offense, averaging 193.3 yards per game. McCaffrey (196 yards) and Martinez (187 yards) have combined for 383 of Nebraska's 580 rushing yards this season (127.6 ypg). 

• Either McCaffrey (Ohio State, Penn State) or Martinez (Northwestern) has led Nebraska in rushing in each of the first three games of the season.

• In his first career start against Penn State, McCaffrey rushed 13 times for a team-high 67 yards and a touchdown.

• Against Northwestern, Martinez posted his fourth career 100-yard rushing game with 13 carries for 102 yards. 

• Excluding sacks, the Husker quarterback duo have combined for 379 rushing yards on 51 attempts, an average of 7.4 yards per carry.

• According to CFBstats.com, both of the quarterbacks rank in the top 20 nationally in yards per carry, regardless of position. Among players with a minimum of 15 carries in 2020, McCaffrey ranks 45th nationally and second among quarterbacks at 7.59 yards per carry. Martinez is 29th nationally and eighth among quarterbacks at 7.19 yards per attempt. 

Huskers Youth Showing Potential in 2020

Nebraska's 2020 roster features a mix of veteran players who have been fixtures for Nebraska for the past three and four seasons. However, the Huskers have had several young players, particularly on offense, show the ability to form a nucleus of the Husker roster for the next several seasons. 

• Against Penn State, six of Nebraska's 11 starters were either freshmen or sophomores, including four freshmen.

• Nebraska freshmen have produced 41 percent of Nebraska's all-purpose yards through three games. 

• Redshirt freshman quarterback Luke McCaffrey made his first career start against Penn State after splitting time with Adrian Martinez in the first two games. McCaffrey ranks as Nebraska's leading rusher (196 yards) and passer (300 yards) through three games. McCaffrey accounted for 219 yards of total offense in his first career start, including 69 yards on the game's opening drive.

• McCaffrey became the first Husker quarterback to win his first career start since Tommy Armstrong Jr. won his first start as a redshirt freshman against South Dakota State in 2013. McCaffrey was the first Nebraska quarterback to defeat a conference opponent in his first career start since true freshman Cody Green led Nebraska to a 20-10 win at Baylor in 2009. 

• Several young receivers have made a big impact early this season. True freshman Marcus Fleming led the Huskers with 75 receiving yards on five catches at Northwestern, while fellow true freshman Zavier Betts led the Huskers with 54 receiving yards against Penn State, including a 45-yard touchdown catch. True freshman Alante Brown made his first career start at receiver against Penn State and is one of Nebraska's top kickoff returners. 

• Sophomore Wan'Dale Robinson is in his second season in the program and leads the Huskers with 15 receptions, while adding 60 rushing yards through three games. 

• Robinson's four receptions at Northwestern increased his career catch total to 50 in his 12th career game. Robinson reached 50 career receptions the second-fastest of any Husker. Only JD Spielman reached 50 career catches (11 games) quicker than Robinson, while Nate Swift also caught his 50th pass in his 12th career game as a Husker. 

• Senior Dedrick Mills is Nebraska's top running back. He is backed up by a trio of freshmen, including true freshman Marvin Scott III and redshirt freshmen Ronald Thompkins and Rahmir Johnson.

• Redshirt freshmen Bryce Benhart (RT) and Ethan Piper (LG) are key members of the Husker offensive line. Benhart has started all three games, while Piper has been in the starting lineup each of the past two games. The Northwestern and Penn State games marked just the third and fourth games in school history Nebraska has started a pair of freshmen offensive linemen. Current seniors Brenden Jaimes and Matt Farniok started on the same offensive line against Northwestern and Minnesota in 2017. 

• Sophomore linebacker Luke Reimer led Nebraska in tackles at Northwestern with 10 stops, including a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss, while adding a fumble caused. Reimer had 11 career tackles before the Northwestern game. Reimer added four tackles and a key sack on Penn State's final scoring threat. Redshirt freshman Nick Henrich and true sophomore Garrett Nelson are part of the Huskers' regular rotation at outside linebacker. Nelson had nine tackles vs. Penn State.

• Sophomore cornerback Quinton Newsome and redshirt freshman safety Myles Farmer earned their first career starts at Northwestern. Farmer made the most of his first start, with a pair of second-quarter interceptions that led to 10 Nebraska points. Newsome finished the game with three tackles. 

Huskers Showing Special Teams Improvement

Nebraska fields an entirely new special teams unit this season - including a new special teams coach - as it aims to improve in that aspect of the game in 2020. Frost hired Jonathan Rutledge as Nebraska's Senior Special Teams Analyst during the offseason. With Auburn the previous two seasons, Rutledge led a Tigers' special teams unit that was ranked 13th nationally in 2019 and 14th in 2018 by Football Outsiders.

• Nebraska features a new punter (William Przystup), new place-kicker (Connor Culp), new long snappers (Cade Mueller, Cameron Pieper) and a new holder (Przystup).

• Przystup is averaging 41.9 yards per punt on the season, with four punts of better than 50 yards. The sophomore previously punted at Michigan State in 2018 before transferring to Nebraska.

• Nebraska used six place-kickers last season and only one returned for 2020 in Lane McCallum, a defensive player who filled in as an emergency kicker last season and is focusing on defense this fall. NU added five place-kickers to its roster during the offseason, including a pair of transfers. Culp joined Nebraska as a graduate transfer from LSU, and he was the Tigers' starting place-kicker as a sophomore in 2017, connecting on 11-of-16 field goals. Culp has connected on 6-of-7 field goals and all six PATs to open the season. He is the first Nebraska kicker since 2018 to have multiple field goals in consecutive games, including three last week against Penn State.