LINCOLN — Nebraska’s defense let the air out of Illinois’ passing game, and the Husker foot soldiers did the rest.
The Husker defense intercepted four passes — two for touchdowns — and recovered three fumbles. Nebraska I-back Doug DuBose’s groundwork of 26 carries for a career-high 191 yards and three touchdowns shared the spotlight in the Huskers’ 52-25 victory.
Saturday’s crowd of 76,149 at Memorial Stadium — an NCAA record 138th straight sellout — saw No. 18 Nebraska amass 566 total yards, including 456 on the ground, in raising their record to 1-1. Illinois, ranked 20th, fell to 1-2.
Illinois’ passing game, led by quarterback Jack Trudeau and All-American wide receiver David Williams, was touted as among the country’s best. The Illini were pegged to challenge for the Big Ten crown and possible national honors, too. But in the first two games — a 20-10 loss to Southern Cal and a 28-25 win over Division I-AA Southern Illinois — Air Trudeau more resembled the Hindenburg than a Concorde.
The Illini suffered 10 turnovers in their first two games.
Against Nebraska, Trudeau officially hit 29 of 51 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns. Actually, he threw five touchdown passes including the two that Nebraska intercepted.
Husker safety Chris Carr returned one 56 yards for a touchdown.
Defensive tackle Chris Spachman intercepted another and chugged 38 yards for the Huskers’ final score.
“Basically, we got beat bad,” said Mike White, Illinois’ coach.
“We got humilated out there and it’s embarrassing. We’re not a very good football team right now.
“We had a chance to play USC and Nebraska and the results showed that they just kicked the tar out of us. Dropped passes, missed tackles and the quarterback throwing the ball to anybody in the other jersey is basically what it amounts to.”
Trudeau was unruffled by his coach’s criticism. The senior quarterback, often pressured by Nebraska’s three-man rush, knew he’d thrown some poor passes.
“It’s not the end of the world for me,” Trudeau said. “It’s just going to make me more determined.”
Most of the time, Trudeau was determined to throw to Williams, who caught 101 passes in 1984. But Nebraska often double-covered Williams and Trudeau paid for his persistence by throwing four interceptions.
Williams finished with seven catches for 119 yards, but few of those came when the game was close.
DuBose, a 5-foot 11, 195-pound junior, was the key man in the game’s two biggest plays. His 1-yard touchdown run with 28 seconds left in the first half gave the Huskers a 24-10 halftime lead.
More important, it snuffed Illinois’ hard-won momentum that had pulled them within 17-10 when Trudeau hit tight end Cap Boso with a 4-yard touchdown pass with 1:25 left in the half.
But quarterback McCathorn Clayton hit wide receiver Robb Schnitzler with a 64-yard bomb to the Illinois 16. Clayton’s 9-yard keeper on third down gave Nebraska a first down at the 1 and DuBose catapulted over the pile — Air DuBose — on the next play for the touchdown.
On Nebraska’s first play of the second half, DuBose swept right, cut back inside and shook off three tackles to break free.
Schnitzler’s block at the 20 took care of the final Illinois defender and DuBose sprinted to the end zone to complete a 49-yard touchdown run. The play pushed Nebraska’s lead to 31-10 with 12:52 left in the third period.
“He’s just a great back,” said NU Coach Tom Osborne.
The Husker coach knew the importance of those two DuBose scores.
The timing of the touchdowns gave Nebraska an emotional lift and took away much of the Fighting Illini’s fight.
“The biggest point of the game, maybe, was right before the half,” Osborne said. “Illinois closed the gap and then we went 80 yards in about a minute. That really changed the momentum around. Then at the start of the second half, when we held them and DuBose put it in on the first play, we looked like we had the game in good shape.
“That two minutes of action, right at the end of the first half and right at the start of the second half, was the key to the ball game as far as I was concerned.”
Nebraska opened the game with an impressive scoring drive. The Huskers marched 73 yards in eight plays, all on the ground, and DuBose got the touchdown on a 1-yard run. Clayton had the big play when he turned a broken pass play into a 15-yard run to the Illinois 1-yard line. DuBose scored on the next play. Clayton carried three times for 33 yards in the drive.
Carr’s theft of Trudeau’s pass that bounced off Williams’ hands and 56-yard return for a touchdown made it 14-0 with 10:12 left in the first period.
Late in the first quarter, Trudeau aimed another pass for Williams, but Husker defensive end Brad Smith wrestled it away from Williams while making the tackle at the Nebraska 46. Eight plays later, Craig Schnitzler’s 35-yard field goal made it 17-0.
Illinois got on the board with 11:44 left in the half when Chris White, the coach’s son, hit a 42-yard field goal. The ball hit the crossbar, but bounced over and it was 17-3.
Trudeau then took Illinois on a 77-yard drive for a touchdown. The payoff pass went to Boso over the middle and it was 17-10 with 1:25 left in the half.
Then came Clayton’s bomb to Robb Schnitzler that set up DuBose’s 1-yard touchdown with 28 seconds left in the half.
After DuBose stunned the Illini with his 49-yard touchdown run to start the second half, Nebraska began to have problems of its own.
Clayton threw an interception to Illinois safety Craig Swoope that stopped a Husker scoring threat. A Clayton fumble halted another Nebraska drive. Illinois kept pace, though, and a Trudeau fumble at the Illinois 17 was recovered by Brad Smith. Four plays later, wingback Von Sheppard ran 12 yards on a reverse for the touchdown that made it 38-10.
Osborne, though, said he was still worried.
He sent senior Travis Turner into the game at quarterback and Turner promptly guided Nebraska to another touchdown. Turner hit Sheppard with a 37-yard pass to set up the score. Turner threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Schnitzler and it was 45-10 with 27 seconds left in the third period.
“Clayton played very well for three quarters and then he ran into some problems,” Osborne said. “Travis came in and helped pick the team up.”
Illinois cut the margin to 45-25 when Trudeau threw fourth quarter touchdown passes to Boso and Stephen Pierce, both 4-yard strikes. But on Illinois’ next possession, Trudeau was flushed from the pocket by linebacker Marc Munford and threw an off-balance pass into the hands of the 250-pound Spachman. He lumbered untouched for 38 yards to the end zone and it was 52-25 with just 3:48 left.
Osborne said he didn’t relax until Spachman scored.
Osborne said the Huskers showed great improvement over the season-opening 17-13 loss to Florida State. The Nebraska passing game still needs work, he said, because the Clayton-Turner duo hit just 3 of 10 attempts. Two of those completions, though, set up Nebraska touchdowns and the third was a touchdown.
Osborne also praised Nebraska’s offensive line for its game-long domination of Illinois and said the Husker defense played “pretty good.” Nebraska held Illinois to just 38 rushing yards.
“We set a goal of under 100 yards rushing,” Osborne said.
The biggest change in Nebraska after its one-week layoff was poise, Osborne said. The Huskers now have some game experience and that made a difference, he said. Nebraska threw an interception and lost two fumbles, but none of those turnovers came at crucial times.
“Against Florida State, we were more tentative,” Osborne said, “but today we came out and played with a little more confidence.”
|Yards per carry||3.3||6.2|
Nebraska is 13-3 all-time against Illinois.
|Florida State||Sept. 7|
|New Mexico||Oct. 5|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 12|
|Kansas State||Nov. 2|
|Iowa State||Nov. 9|
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