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Major mistakes turned a dominant performance into a four quarter nail biter. It’s almost as if the Huskers read last week’s report card and went “Hold My Beer”. If last week was “schizophrenic, manic-depressive” then I don’t know how to describe Nebraska’s performance against Illinois. About the safest thing to say is that the “meh” moments got split between “WOW” and “WTF”… and the WTF’s tried to outdo themselves.
If you look at the base stat lines, this was an impressive performance: Total yards: NU 690, Illinois 299; First Downs: NU 32, Illinois 14; Time of Possession: NU 37:04, Illinois 22:56; Third Down Conversions: NU 11 of 19, Illinois 1 of 11.
Look at those numbers, and you’d think this was a 49-14 Nebraska victory. And we’d all be happy campers who are excitedly waiting for Ohio State and ESPN’s College Gameday gang to roll into Lincoln next Saturday.
But there are two other numbers that maybe counted more: four Nebraska fumbles lost, and 11 Nebraska penalties. That turned this into a stress-inducing four quarter game that was still in doubt with two minutes to play.
Do that again next week, and it’s going to feel like the Mike Riley era again in Lincoln. But clean up those mistakes, and Nebraska has a fighting chance to make next Saturday night an awful lot of fun. Doesn’t mean Nebraska will automatically win with a clean game, because Ohio State is really, really good. But the Huskers will have a chance, and that’s all we can ask at this point.
So yeah, the mistakes are going to cloud this week’s report card in a way the stat sheet won’t reflect. Here’s my best shot at the grades; feel free to disagree in the comments.
Quarterback: Something clicked with Adrian Martinez after halftime. In the first half, he made some poor decisions and the offense struggled. And those high throws? Going to get a receiver killed. In the second half, he was a crisp 11 of 13 passing (should have been 14 attempts) for 160 yards and rushed 11 times for 99 yards. He’d get a D for the first half, but a solid A- for the second half. So split the difference for the final grade: C+
I-Back: Maurice Washington was impressive when he was on the field in the first half; hopefully he’s able to go next week. Dedrick Mills ran fine, as far as I was concerned, except for a costly fumble. That forced Wan’Dale Robinson to be the featured offensive weapon in the game. I don’t think Nebraska wants him to touch the ball 27 times in a game again. 10-15? That’s another matter entirely. Grade: B+
Wide Receivers: JD Spielman gets a star for this game as well with 159 yards receiving. But Kanawai Noa had a bad drop when he let a pass go right through his hands untouched. Grade: B+
Offensive Line: Illinois tried to overwhelm the offensive line; sometimes it worked for a negative play, but more often than not, it led to a big gainer. So I’m giving the line a B.
Defensive Line: Half of Reggie Corbin’s carries went for 4 yards or less. While 202 yards rushing is less than desirable, it wasn’t a bad performance. Grade: B
Linebackers: I thought Will Honas and Collin Miller outplayed Mohammed Barry once again this week; going to need all three this next week. Grade: B
Secondary: That long run on the second play of the game was clearly a tendency read by Lovie Smith’s coaching staff; they saw Marquel Dismuke coming on a blitz, and exploited the hole he left behind. Dismuke got the last laugh though, with three pass breakups and leading with 7 tckles. Cam Taylor-Britt returned with another great performance; I worried he was going to be out a lot longer. Can we please give Jojo Domann a Blackshirt now, please? 7 pass breakups for the secondary rendered the Illini offense mostly impotent outside of that first drive bust. Overall, that’s an “A” performance.
Special Teams: Normally, I don’t grade the special teams, but in a game this close, mistakes put Nebraska in trouble all day. Six of Nebraska’s 11 penalties came on kicking plays. Add in a blocked extra point and a doink, and you’ve got a problem. Frankly, until Barrett Pickering returns, I don’t see how Scott Frost can have much faith in placekicking. Unless it’s 4th and 20, I think Nebraska’s best shot now is to try get the first down. Grade: F
Overall: C This was oh-so-close to being an “A” performance, but the mistakes were so big, the grade has to drop significantly.

Final: Nebraska 42, Illinois 38. This is how all of Nebraska feels. pic.twitter.com/HCJoNIzypJ— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) September 22, 2019

Elsewhere in College Football
Wisconsin: A+ The Badgers defense is for real.
Michigan: F The Weasels are not.
Washington State: F The Pirate blew a 32 point third quarter lead to Chip Kelly and UCLA. In the final 20 minutes of the game, UCLA scored 50 (!!!) points. This was #Pac12AfterDark on steroids.

Source: Corn Nation