Nebraska football faces ‘monumental’ challenge in game against Illinois
LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – The Huskers will face several challenges, including a top-ranked defense and running back, in their matchup against No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.
But offensive coordinator Mark Whipple spoke Wednesday about the positives of the Huskers’ offense, which scored 37 points in the loss against Purdue.
During that game, wide receiver Trey Palmer had a standout performance, willing touchdowns and huge gains into existence.
Palmer left the game with seven catches for 237 yards and two touchdowns.
“Trey is our best player,” Whipple emphasized.
He said Anthony Grant is also one of the team’s best playmakers.
Both Grant and Palmer will need to step up against the top-ranked Big Ten defense when the Huskers take on the Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium.
Illinois’ defense has allowed the fewest pass (1,003) and rushing (545) yards in the conference this season.
For comparison, Nebraska sits on the opposite end of the spectrum, giving up 1,969 passing and 1,333 rushing yards.
Whipple believes Illinois’ defense has been so tough because they’ve “bought in” to the team’s defensive plan.
“They’re just gonna play man free, and they’re going to be aggressive,” he said. “You can see how they gain confidence throughout.”
When asked about how the team matches with Illinois in regard to physicality, Whipple said the points are more important.
“I mean, I don’t think anybody comes after the game, says ‘Geez we were more physical,’ or whatever,” he said. “They have a scoreboard for a reason. I haven’t seen any tab on physicality up there.”
Whipple did acknowledge that sometimes, a game might come down to physical presence, but said at the end of the day: Nobody knows.
“The beauty of football is we don’t have any idea how the game is gonna play out,” he said. “You know, we may think we do, but we don’t.”
One thing that isn’t uncertain: Illinois’ Chase Brown will run the ball.
The team’s star back has racked up 1,059 rushing yards this year, the most in the Big Ten.
Defensive coordinator Bill Busch said Brown is the type of running back that can turn 3 yards into 6.
“That’s the No. 1 thing that stands out the most to me, is you look at the film, and it should be second-and-7 and it’s second-and-4,” he said.
Busch said it’s “ridiculous” how many yards after contact Brown has.
And for a defense that has struggled all season to stop the run, or even make open-field tackles, Brown presents a huge challenge for the Huskers.
Plus, Nebraska is without one of its key linemen for the rest of the season: Nick Henrich, who left the Purdue game with an injury.
“That’s a kick in the gut losing him,” Busch said. “What a, I mean, he’s a great player. He’s a better person. He’s a better leader.”
Not all injury updates were bad news, as Luke Reimer will return for Saturday’s game.
Despite that, Busch described the challenge of facing the Fighting Illini as “monumental.”
“I wouldn’t say monumental as far as something that can’t be obtained,” he said. “But it’s just a very good football team.”
Illinois is Nebraska’s second ranked opponent of the season, the first being Oklahoma, which blew the Huskers out at home.
The Huskers have lost 23 straight against ranked opponents since defeating No. 22 Oregon early on in the 2016 season.
And on top of that, the Huskers are 7.5-point underdogs as of Wednesday, according to ESPN.
But Busch said these games are just a part of college football.
“College football is hard,” he said. “Everything has to be worked out. You don’t want to play games that aren’t like this, so we’re excited to go play.”
Nebraska vs. Illinois will be broadcast on Channel 8 at 2:30 p.m.
On Friday, Channel 8 will also be hosting the Husker Preview Show, which will air right after the 10 p.m. newscast.
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