Nebraska matched its 2015 regular season win total on Saturday with a 31-16 victory over Illinois.
The Huskers (5-0) enter their bye week as the only undefeated team in the Big Ten West after Iowa and Wisconsin lost.
Here’s how we grade the Huskers win.
As with the Northwestern win, it’s hard to give a good grade to a team with two turnovers in the red zone.
Freshman Mikale Wilbon’s fumble in the red zone and Tommy Armstrong’s interception when the Huskers were in striking distance highlight the offense’s biggest problem: it has turned over the ball five times in five games in the red zone.
Armstrong played OK (16-for-23 passing for 220 yards, one touchdown and one interception) and the run game was consistent (203 yards on 49 rushes) so production isn’t an issue. The issue is scoring when they should.
It was a good — not great — offensive performance.
Two Illinois running backs took off for costly 31-yard runs. At times, the Huskers defense was bullied up front.
The linebackers did not have a great showing. Illinois QB Wes Lunt picked on the linebackers in coverage all afternoon, and the tackling by that group was sub-par.
The corners played all right, and the front four got decent pressure on Lunt. Nebraska only gave up 16 points and less than 150 yards passing and 130 yards rushing, but overall it was a shoddy performance from the Blackshirts.
Special teams (4/5)
If De’Mornay Pierson-El gets any room, he’s deadly.
Twice Pierson-El returned punts more than 15 yards, one that could have been a touchdown had he not been tripped.
On the other hand, Nebraska did not punt once on Saturday. That eliminates possible negativity, since punter Caleb Lightbourn has had an up-and-down season.
Special teams gets a good grade this week, but not a perfect one since we didn’t see it all.
Sticking to the run game and trusting that the Illini defensive line would break was a brilliant move.
Going for it on fourth-and-1 near the goal line was also a great move from coach Mike Riley.
He and his staff continue to roll the dice and get rewarded. As Riley said earlier this year, luck favors the bold.
After three quarters of just OK play, the fourth-quarter run game and conversions near the goal line paid off and gave Nebraska the win.
So far, bold has been working out.
Nebraska was a 20-point favorite and didn’t look like it for most of the game.
An 18-play drive punctuated with a great run separated the Huskers from the three previous quarters when Illinois outplayed them.
They limp into the bye week with injuries to senior WR Jordan Westerkamp, senior TE Cethan Carter and RB Devine Ozigbo, who join WR Alonzo Moore and OG Tanner Farmer on the injured list.
Nebraska needs to get healthy and figure out how to do some simple things better, like taking care of the ball in the red zone and not allowing big plays on defense.
As in some of the categories above, it was a good (not great), but not awful performance on Saturday.