Nebraska traveled to Illinois for its Big Ten road opener working off just five days of preparation, while the Fighting Illini had nearly two full weeks to rest and game plan coming off of a bye.
None of that mattered one bit when Friday night’s game kicked off, however, as the Huskers dominated every aspect of the game from the opening play on en route to a 28-6 victory.
After struggling mightily the past three games, quarterback Tanner Lee put together by far his best outing of the season by completing 17-of-24 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns.
Devine Ozigbo led the way on the ground, pounding out 106 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries
On defense, the Blackshirts stonewalled Illinois all night and limited the Illini to just over 200 yards of total offense and no touchdowns and racking up five quarterback sacks.
Most importantly, that effort on both sides of the ball improved NU to 3-2 on the season and a perfect 2-0 in conference play.
A targeting call on Illinois safety Bennett Williams on a dropped third-down pass turned a potential three-and-out on NU’s opening possession into a 45-yard touchdown pass from Lee to De’Mornay Pierson-El.
Nebraska returned the favor with a costly pass interference penalty on a third-down incompletion, and the Illini capitalized by marching 64 yards on 15 plays and scoring on a 25-yard field goal by Chase McLaughlin to start the second quarter.
Illinois held the ball for 11:55 in the first quarter, though it only out-gained Nebraska 83-74 in total yardage and still trailed.
On just their second possession of the game, the Huskers once again drove right down the field for an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, capped off by a 15-yard scoring run by Devine Ozigbo to make it a 14-3 lead.
After stopping Illinois in NU territory to force a punt, Nebraska pushed its lead to 21-3 by moving it 89 yards on nine plays and eating up 5:02 off the clock before Lee hit tight end Tyler Hoppes for a six-yard scoring pass with 1:23 left in the half.
Lee ended the first half 11-of-13 passing, including completing his final 10 throws in a row, for 167 yards and two touchdowns for a quarterback rating of 243.3. The Huskers out-gained Illinois 238-153 in total offense and racked up 12 first downs on their 25 plays in the half.
Illinois was able chip away at the deficit to start the third quarter with a 12-play, 46-yard drive down inside the Nebraska five-yard line, but had to settle for another 25-yard field goal by McLaughlin to make it 21-6.
The Huskers added to the Illini momentum when Ozigbo coughed up a fumble on their ensuing possession and UI recovered at the Nebraska 32. But the defense stood tall with a furious pass rush and quickly forced an Illinois punt.
The offense quickly settled back down from there, putting together another long, time-consuming drive and punching it in on a 23-yard touchdown pass to Stanley Morgan to increase the lead to 28-6 with 13:34 to go.
In all, the Huskers went 93 yards on 14 plays and chewed up 6:27 on the drive to all but put the game away.
The Huskers will return to action next Saturday when they play host to Wisconsin for a 7 p.m. tilt on Big Ten Network.