Article from @BlitzCFB
Nebraska travels to Champaign to battle the Illini in the opening game of the 2021 College Football season.
Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
The 2021 College Football season will kick off with a bang on Saturday. Nebraska will take on Illinois in a rare Big Ten showdown to start the season for both of these teams. These two teams have very different expectations for this season.
This is a prove it year for Nebraska head coach Scott Frost and his Cornhuskers. Frost has posted an underwhelming 12-20 record in his three seasons with Nebraska. If he does not make at least a bowl game this season, Frost will be placed firmly on the hot seat.
That being said, Nebraska has a tough schedule that includes games against Oklahoma, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa. That is why this game against Illinois is a must win.
As for Illinois, this will be a rebuilding year. Bret Bielema is back in the Big Ten after previously coaching Wisconsin from 2006 to 2012. Not much is expected out of this Illini team in 2021.
Nebraska offense vs Illinois defense
Nebraska QB Adrian Martinez has not lived up to his billing of being a Heisman Trophy contender, as many Husker fans claimed him to be. However, Martinez has plenty of experience and he is entering his third season in Scott Frost’s offense. The receiving room has very little experience, but could pose matchup problems for the Illinois defense due to their size. Projected starters in the Illinois secondary are all 6’0” (Tony Adams, Devon Witherspoon, Sydney Brown and Jartavius Martin). Compare that to the 6’3” Samori Toure and the 6’4” Omar Manning and you got a matchup problem out wide. RB Markese Stepp is coming off of a foot injury, but he is listed as probable for Saturday. Illinois has a rock solid group of linebackers with Owen Carney and Jake Hansen, so expect the running game to be slow at times for the Huskers. Once those guys help the undersized secondary in coverage, Nebraska should have no issue running the football. Nebraska should win the trenches battle here. Illinois’ defensive line did not generate a lot of sacks last season. Martinez should have plenty of time in the pocket to find his receivers. The one worry that the Nebraska offense might have is on the blitz, but their receivers have the advantage, so Martinez should be able to capitalize in one-on-one coverage. Don’t forget about Martinez’s running ability either. Nebraska should be able to find success against this Illinois’ defense, especially through the air.
Illinois offense vs Nebraska defense
Brandon Peters returns as the Illinois QB after a below average 2020 season. Peters does have a very experienced offensive line protecting him. Four out of the projected five starters on the line will be returning seniors. The other is Jack Badovinac, who was a two time All-Patriot League offensive lineman at Colgate. The Nebraska defense only generated 13 sacks last year, so expect Peters to be well protected. The Huskers defensive line also struggled against the run. Illinois RB Chase Brown will be relied upon heavily here. Nebraska should be able to handle Brown once he gets to the second level. The Huskers are solid at linebacker and in the secondary. They will miss LB Will Honas, who is out for the year with a knee injury. JoJo Domann will become a star this season as a linebacker who also plays well in coverage. Nebraska’s secondary should take advantage of a rather average Illinois receiving corps. Cam Taylor-Britt and Marquel Dismuke will both have lockdown games. Illinois will find some success running the ball, but the big question mark will be what they can do through the air.
What will happen
Illinois does return a lot of experience from last season. They return 82% of its total starts on offense and 86% of its total starts on defense. Illinois also has the most super seniors in the power five with 22. Will all of that matter in a new system and coaching staff though? We will have to wait and find out. Nebraska has a bit more certainty. Adrian Martinez is not a bad QB and he will have success through the air and on the ground. Nebraska will score the points necessary to win this game. Illinois won’t have the offense to keep up. The Huskers should be able to cover the 7 point spread and win this game.
Prediction: Nebraska 31-17 Illinois (NEB -7 & UNDER 55)
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