Nebraska falls to Illinois in season opener

Published: Aug. 28, 2021 at 10:29 AM CDT
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(WOWT) - In its season opener against Illinois, Nebraska lost to the Illini 30-22. It was a tough start to the fourth year under head coach Scott Frost.

Nebraska’s defense came out looking good in the first half. Pheldarious Payne had two of the huskers’ three sacks, plus the team had three tackles for loss.

A sack from Deontre Thomas and Garrett Nelson knocked Illinois quarterback Brandon peters out of the game. He was replaced by sophomore Artur Sitkowski.

The problem in the first half was something that has plagued the team in recent years: self-inflicted wounds. Cam Taylor Britt decided to try and field a punt inside the five yard line. He ended up slipping, getting tackled into the endzone and threw the ball forward.

That resulted in a safety and gave Illinois a 2-0 lead.

NU settled down a bit after that and had some big passing plays. Adrian Martinez found newcomer Markese Stepp wide open on a 30-yard pass play. A few plays later, Stepp ran it into the endzone for a touchdown.

But then, last year’s B1G Kicker of the Year, Connor Culp, missed the extra point. Special Teams were once again a struggle.

Culp would later hit a 27-yard field goal after Martinez threw a beautiful 46-yard pass to Oliver Martin.

The next Illinois drive featured more of Nebraska hurting itself. On a 3rd and 5, Cam Taylor Britt picked off Sitkowski, but Caleb Tannor was called for roughing the passer and taunting and gave the Illini a free 30 yards.

The later scored to tie the game at 9. Nebraska had an opportunity to score again before the half. Instead, Adrian Martinez fumbled the ball on a 3rd and 2. It was a scoop and score from 41 yards away to give Illinois a 16-9 lead at the break.

In the second half, Illinois took real control of the game. On the team’s first drive, the cut a big chunk of time off the clock with small gains all the way down the field.

The drive had five first downs for the Illini, including a jet sweep to the one-yard line by Isaiah Williams. On third and goal, Sitkowski found Luke Ford wide open in the endzone and went up by 14.

A short Daniel Cerni punt gave Illinois the ball in Husker territory after NU couldn’t do anything with its first possession. The Illini went right back to work.

Sitkowski found Deuce Spann on a big gain that went all the way to the one-yard line. Williams followed it up with another touchdown.

Martinez would then get the Huskers back within 14 with a 75-yard touchdown run, but penalties and mistakes would thwart any momentum Big Red would start to pick up throughout the remainder of the game.

Nebraska kept fighting, though, and an Oliver Matin touchdown got NU to within a score. It was 30-22 after Connor Culp missed his second extra point of the day.

The Huskers got the ball still down eight with just less than a minute, but couldn’t complete a comeback.

Nebraska will now have to look for its first win in the home opener against Fordham on Saturday, 9/4. It’s an 11 a.m. kickoff from Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.

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