Nebraska-Illinois preview: Cornhuskers beat writer’s fears Chase Brown
Carson Gourdie and Josh Pietsch zoom in with SBNation beat writer John Johnston, previewing Illinois’ matchup with the Nebraska Cornhuskers this Saturday.
Despite sitting at 4-3 on the year, the Nebraska Cornhuskers are an upset win over Illinois away from jumping into first place in the Big Ten West Division. A terrible conference loss to Northwestern was offset by wins over Indiana and Rutgers, and the Cornhuskers’ passing game has given teams like Purdue problems this season.
The Daily Illini Podcast recently previewed the game with SBNation beat writer John Johnston, who covers the Nebraska football program. Johnston, while stressing the impact of wide receiver Trey Palmer, worries the Illini will be too much for the Cornhuskers.
“The Huskers offense can be productive if the line play improves
“If (Nebraska) can get the ball to Trey Palmer and he can outrun (Illinois) defenders, he’s going to score in 30 seconds every time he has the ball.
“But, you know, that means (Nebraska) is protecting our quarterback, and if you’ve seen Nebraska’s offensive struggles there, I don’t want to be mean to those guys, but you could put a box on the field and it would at least interfere sometimes with defensive player.
“We have good running backs. We just don’t have a line to block for him. And we have good receivers. But it’s a question of whether Casey Thompson, who has a pretty decent quarterback in terms of reads and ability to find receivers. If he has time to throw the ball and he’s not getting hit and hit and hit, he’s going to put up some yards.”
Palmer’s presence could open up opportunities for other pass rushers
“I think it was a surprise to everybody that Mickey Joseph, who used to be at LSU and recruited (Palmer), brought him to Nebraska.
“I think he runs good routes. Against Purdue, he just outran everyone and Casey Thompson was able to get him the ball and get him enough yards and keep Nebraska in the game.
“Mark Whipple can scheme (plays to get Palmer) open. And the problem with that is everybody knows who (Palmer) is now, so he’s probably going to see a lot of double coverage and a lot of press off the line and a lot of things to try to keep him from falling down the field.
“We do that nice is the other name, you have to know Travis Wokolek is probably one of the big threats and he’s our tight end. He is a big man. He has decent hands. And you know, if you’re all, all paying attention to Trey Palmer all the time, he can hurt you.
Stopping Illinois running back Chase Brown, quarterback Tommy DeVito
“To stop Chase Brown, you have to have a good front seven, and Nebraska honestly doesn’t have a good front seven. (They) lost Nick Henrich for the year where he was one of the (best) defenders. Our defensive line doesn’t have much depth.
“Scott Frost thought it was a good idea to never get caught up in practice. So our defense went four years never doing much in practice. Well, you can’t fight somebody if you don’t fight in practice because you’re not used to the physics of it, you’re not used to the angles and you’re not used to those things.
“It goes back to the top seven if (Nebraska) is going to put pressure on DeVito. It’s going to be through scheme (not defensive line talent), which means we’re probably going to have to create a defense (and make them blitz).”
Illinois could control the clock
“Brett Bielema is just happy to run the ball 83 times a day. He really is. And you know, the key here is that Nebraska is going to slow this down.
“I could see (Illinois) being perfectly happy to go on four drives that went 12 minutes apiece. (Illinois) scores 28 points, (Nebraska) scores maybe 17 because we don’t get the ball a lot.
“I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t think (Illinois is) a great team, but I think they’re a well-rounded team. They are well trained, don’t make many mistakes and fill in all the blanks. They have a great running back. They have a pretty decent quarterback — 10 touchdowns and two interceptions.
“That’s a pretty good ratio. The receivers don’t terrify anyone, but they do enough to be productive. And I think this is a winning team. You know you have a good defensive line. You have a good offensive line. Congratulations, you won the Big Ten West.”
Johnston Score Prediction:
35-21 to Illinois
Johnston doesn’t have much faith in the Cornhuskers being able to compete at the line of scrimmage. The defense allowed nearly 200 yards per game, and the offensive line didn’t do a bad job at times of protecting Nebraska quarterback Casey Thompson.
This looks to be a favorable matchup for Illinois. If the Huskers can’t slow down Brown, the senior running back can control the game and keep players like Palmer off the field — the way the Illini had Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim register a big game.
The Illini defensive line has also performed very well this season, rocking quarterbacks like Tanner Morgan and Brennan Armstrong all season long. That’s vital because giving Thompson time in the pocket could allow Nebraska to hit deep shots — like what Indiana did to the Illini in September.
The Illini, winners of five straight, are 7.5-point road favorites who originally started at 5.5. Illinois has proven to be no sleeper in games under Bielema, and I expect the Illini to ride Chase Brown and Josh McCray to a tough road win.
Illinois 27 – Nebraska 20