The long wait for college football is finally over and the Illini (1-0, 1-0 Big Ten) got the season started on a winning note. Illinois beat seven point favorites Nebraska (0-1, 0-1 Big Ten) 30-22 in Champaign on Saturday.
The game started out a little shaky for the Illini offensively as they failed to score in the first quarter but defense and special teams put on a clinic. The defense completely stifled the Nebraska attack and punter Blake Hayes was phenomenal. Hayes’ first punt was downed at the one inch line and another one fooled the return man into committing a safety.
Offensively, the Illini were a little slow to get started. This was not helped by the fact that starting quarterback Brandon Peters left the game early with an apparent shoulder injury. As of now there is no update on Peters’ condition. After Peter’s departure, the keys to the offense were handed to Rutgers transfer Artur Sitkowski. Sitkowski endeared himself to the Illini faithful with a strong debut performance finishing 12-for-15 for 124 yards and 2 TDs.
The Illini defense showed shades of Lovie when NC State transfer linebacker CJ Hart returned a fumble 41 yards to the house just before the end of the first half. Hart was having an excellent game with six tackles and one sack before going down in the second half.
The Illini running game was also in full force with five different backs getting at least one rush. The attack was led by Mike Epstein who finished the game with 16 attempts for 75 yards and a score. Chase Brown was close behind with 45 yards on 12 carries.
Nebraska managed to rack up more total yards than the Illini (377) but found finding both the endzone and the middle of the uprights to be more difficult than they imagined. Husker quarterback Adrian Martinez went 16-32 for 232 yards and a score. He also led the team in rushing yards with 111 on 17 rushes. Husker kicker Connor Culp missed two extra points in the loss.
The Illini survived their first test of the new year against a conference opponent and will be looking to carry that momentum forward into next week's matchup against UTSA. As of right now the injury status of Peters and Hart is still unknown.