A special Friday edition of Husker football coming at ya! Way back in the spring of 2017, a lifetime ago, the Big Ten announced that they’d be asking schools to play on Friday nights starting with the 2017 season. A few of the heavy-hitters (not Nebraska) immediately declined to play any of these Friday dates, some home, some away. However, then-Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst embraced the Big Ten’s Friday scheduling. President Hank Bounds and Chancellor Ronnie Green did not. Nor did Mike Riley who, like most coaches, likes his routine to stay the same week to week. Make no mistake, this game is a decision that was the first step toward Eichorst’s ouster as Husker AD.
But the past is the past and the future is tomorrow! Literally tomorrow. Nebraska faces a confident Illinois team in Champagne on Friday night. Not confident because of their overwhelming talent or depth or coaching or play. It has much more to do with what the Huskers have done this season. While the Blackshirt defense continues to grow and improve, the Husker offense continues to score points for the wrong team. In the last 2 games, the defense has given up a total of 17 points. *pause for dramatic effect* In the same span, the offense has given up 21 points. *pause for re-reading*
*pause for crying*
Despite the performance of the offense, including quarterback Tanner Lee’s nation-leading 9 interceptions, the Huskers have a real chance to win against a below-average Illinois team. How? I’m glad you asked.
Tanner Lee continues to struggle in the deep passing game. It is, without a doubt, a culmination of issues from the offensive line to the wide receivers. Early this week, Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said that a tightening of the playbook was in order. So, make that year 3 of 3 that the playbook got lighter. Annoying but necessary. Give Lee quick reads, short passes and lean on the run game. Keep it simple, stupid.
The Husker defense has improved immensely since the first half against Oregon and are playing at a very high level. “But Doug” you’ll be saying, “aren’t Northern Illinois and Rutgers bad at offense?” Yes. The opposition hasn’t been world-beating talent but watch the way Nebraska’s defense plays with confidence. Take some time to focus on Nebraska’s defensive backfield, as well. Safety Antonio Reed has jumped quickly to Nebraska’s best defensive back despite playing with a club on his hand due to an earlier injury. The one-armed man even had an interception against Rutgers last week. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has made a point to rotate players up front on defense as well as put making sure each player knows their role and is playing hard. I trust Diaco and staff to use the best guys for the defense. The offense, however…
Don’t Go Crazy
Despite what Prince would tell you; don’t get nuts. Mike Riley and staff are absolutely coaching for their jobs right now. They know it, I know it, the American people know it. The desire to go wild and do everything possible to win is going to creep in for this staff at some point. They can’t let it. Stick with the game plan, know the offense’s strengths and lean on the defense. Also, the next pick-six by Lee needs to create a chance for back-up Patrick O’Brien. Lee’s turnovers cost the Huskers a game against NIU two weeks ago and they cost the Huskers a lead against Rutgers. The leash needs to be short going forward.
- 52.1 – completion percentage for Tanner Lee so far in 2017. Tommy Armstrong was 51.4% last season.
- 101 – rushing yards for Devine Ozigbo against Rutgers, his first extensive action of the season.
- 1 – Huskers’ place in the Big Ten West standings. Yeah, it’s one week and several teams haven’t played a conference game. Big whoop, we’re # 1 !!!
- Me, the writer, spotting Illinois a defensive touchdown in my score prediction.
- One questionable timeout by Mike Riley, two by Lovie Smith.
- A close, boring, ugly football game.
Nebraska 13 – Illinois 17