CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Nebraska needed the 28-6 win over Illinois for a lot of reasons. There’s the angle of staying competitive in the Big Ten and keeping the chance of winning out alive. There’s also needing the wins to make a bowl game. However, there’s one reason that might trump all only because it directly feeds into the other two.
The Huskers needed that win from a confidence standpoint.
Postgame, coach Mike Riley called the victory Nebraska’s “most complete game of the year.” He also liked what it did for the mentality of his team, and what it could do over the coming week.
“I like where we are right now, actually,” Riley said. “We’ve won two Big Ten games. We won one on the road, we won one on a short week. We gained a day to give our kids an extra day off. I think that will be good for them, and then, we’ll get ready to play Wisconsin.”
And Riley wasn’t kidding. The numbers back up the idea of a complete game. By the end, Nebraska had 411 total yards of offense with 246 yards in the air and 165 on the ground.
Devine Ozigbo and Mikale Wilbon did most of the heavy lifting on the ground, with Ozigbo rushing 18 times for 109 yards and 1 touchdown. Wilbon rushed 13 times for 61 yards.
In the air, quarterback Tanner Lee was 17 of 24 for 246 yards and 3 touchdowns. While he was sacked twice, he had 0 interceptions against Illinois. He targeted five receivers, with three scoring a touchdown for the Huskers.
Yes, it felt like a complete game. For offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf, it’s also a game that can help his team down the road.
“I think that you can really build on that,” Langsdorf said Friday night. “I thought we had a very good first half. We were productive. Our drives were really sharp. I didn’t like how we came out in the second half, but Tanner really kept everybody together. And like I said, you can really build on a performance like that, especially from a position like that. Not turning the ball over, making good decisions and I think that it was a really well-balanced game for us and statistically, it probably showed, too.”
Offensive tackle Nick Gates agreed. Now 2-0 in the Big Ten, Gates sees his team’s confidence building. A complete game, as Riley put it, helps with that confidence.
And after the Northern Illinois loss two weeks ago, it’s exactly what the Huskers have needed, too.
“I feel like we’re getting our confidence back week-by-week after the NIU game. Everybody was kind of saying this and that,” Gates said. “You hear things from the media and the fans and stuff like that, but I think we’re getting it back week-by-week. We have a good Wisconsin team we play next week, and they’re going to be good up front like they always are and they’re tough. Whoever runs the ball and keeps the ball and no turnovers is going to win that game next week.”
Nebraska’s win over Illinois is exactly what the Huskers needed right now. With Wisconsin and Ohio State back-to-back at home for Nebraska, there will be a lot of pressure to perform. It’s also going to be a big couple of weeks as the Huskers hope to stay on course in the Big Ten.
Because as far as Nebraska’s concerned now, anything before Big Ten play doesn’t matter. It’s all about winning out and getting to the Big Ten Championship. The win over Illinois is a step in that direction.
“I definitely think it helps,” Gates said. “We’re going to take it one game at a time in the Big Ten and keep trying to win.”