The Illinois defense turned in a terrific effort through three quarters, a good enough performance to send the Illini to the final period with a six-point lead on the No. 15 team in the country.
But a dominating fourth quarter from Nebraska — one that featured 21 Husker points — meant there’d be no upset for the visitors in Lincoln.
Illinois had a 16-10 lead on Nebraska early in the fourth quarter, but the Huskers were in the midst of a clock-chewing 10-and-a-half-minute drive that ended with a go-ahead touchdown run by Terrell Newby. From there, the Illini offense’s time on the field was brief, and the Huskers rattled off two more scores to grab a 31-16 victory.
That go-ahead touchdown was not without controversy. Illinois stopped Newby for a gain of just one on third and two, and Nebraska head coach Mike Riley opted to go for it on fourth and one. Newby rushed and came real close, the officials spotting the ball and measuring to award the Huskers a first down at the Illini three-yard line. The spot was reviewed, but nothing changed. The next play was a three-yard touchdown rush that put Nebraska in front, and many of Illinois supporters voiced their displeasure with that spot on social media.
The Illini went three and out on each of their next two possessions, while the Huskers twice reached the end zone on long touchdown drives. Tommy Armstrong hit Trey Foster for a touchdown to cap a 59-yard scoring possession, and Newby rushed for a 63-yard score the next time the Huskers had the ball to turn it into a two-score margin.
The first half, and really the first three quarters, belonged to the Illinois defense. The pass rush was terrific the majority of the game, and the defense came away with a pair of takeaways.
Illinois got a 31-yard touchdown run from Kendrick Foster in the first half and added two field goals in the second quarter and another in the third to build that 16-10 lead.
But that massive fourth quarter skewed all the numbers in Nebraska’s favor. The Huskers ended up out-gaining the Illini, 423-270. They also had a 203-124 rushing advantage and a 220-146 passing edge. Nebraska was 11-for-15 on third and fourth down, Illinois going just 2-for-9.
The biggest advantage, though, was in time of possession, with the Huskers more than doubling Illinois' time spent with the ball in the second half.
Newby was the biggest stat-producer of the day, rushing 27 times for 140 yards and a pair of touchdowns, also adding 26 receiving yards. Armstrong threw for 220 yards and a touchdown (as well as an interception) and rushed in for the game’s first touchdown.
Wes Lunt was 13-for-22 for 133 yards for the Illini, with Reggie Corbin and Foster combining for 118 rushing yards.
The loss in their conference opener sent the Illini to 1-3 on the season. They’ve lost their last three games by a combined 113-49 score. Next up for Illinois is Purdue next weekend in Champaign.
The win kept the Huskers undefeated at a perfect 5-0, a terrific start to the season following Mike Riley’s 6-7 finish in his first year. Nebraska has a bye week next weekend before a road trip to Indiana.