Illinois beats Nebraska in college football’s opener as Cornhuskers’ troubles grow:The best way to get people talking about your favorite college football program is to either be consistently relevant or be so inept that the mere mention of that school elicits head-shaking and laughter.
The latter is especially true of Nebraska, which openly campaigned to play during a pandemic last season and then complained when the Big Ten released its schedule.
The Cornhuskers also attempted to get out of this season’s Sept. 18 matchup against Oklahoma, and led by head coach Scott Frost, tried to gauge the interest of several Group of Five Conference programs to replace the Sooners, according to The Action Network.
Saturday’s 30-22 loss to Illinois won’t help matters, but it gets worse.
Nebraska is under NCAA investigation, accused of using analysts and consultants improperly during practices and games during the 2020 season.
Perhaps the hottest seat in the sport due to Frost’s 12-20 record in his first three seasons at his alma mater, will again ignite buyout chatter in Lincoln.
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Nebraska was again done in by a bevy of poor decision-making and even worse execution.
The season’s first score came when Nebraska punt returner Cam Britt-Taylor inexplicably fielded the ball at the 2-yard line, ran backward and was tackled in the end zone to give Wisconsin a 2-0 lead.
On Illinois’ next possession, quarterback Brandon Peters was slammed to the turf on his left shoulder and did not return to the game. He watched from the sideline with his arm in a sling.
Rutgers transfer Artur Sitkowski entered the game and was promptly sacked on the next play.
The Huskers hit pay dirt in the second quarter on a Markese Stepp 2-yard touchdown run. But near the end of the half, Illinois capitalized on another Nebraska mistake when Adrian Martinez was sacked and fumbled leading to a 41-yard scoop and score by linebacker Calvin Hart.
Illinois took the opening second-half possession and chewed eight minutes off the clock and pushed its lead to 23-9 on a Sitkowski 2-yard TD pass to Luke Ford. Sitkowski finished with an efficient 12-of-15 for 124 yards and two touchdowns.
The same issues that plagued the Huskers a year ago popped up again. Martinez was not efficient and when he did have time, he overthrew receivers or held the ball too long, resulting in five sacks. The punt return miscue and two missed extra points added to another frustrating day for Frost.
Martinez was 16-of-32 for 232 yards with one touchdown and added 111 on the ground, including a third-quarter 75-yard scramble that cut into a three-touchdown deficit.
The Illini could not have scripted the opening game any better. Bielema is back in the Big Ten, following his stint at Wisconsin, where he won three Big Ten titles in seven years before moving to Arkansas and spending time as an NFL assistant.
Illinois is in the midst of a reset after the five-year tenure of Lovie Smith, who went 17-39 with a 10-33 mark in conference play.
Depending on how long Peters is out, the Illini will need to rely on their ground game and veteran offensive line to keep their defense, which ranked last in the Big Ten in 2020, fresh.
Shades of old school Bielema-ball is back, at least for one week.