Less than seven minutes into Nebraska’s game at Illinois Saturday night, the Huskers were down 14-0.
A big 66-yard TD run by Reggie Corbin, a Husker fumble and a TD pass from Brandon Peters to Josh Imatorbhebhe put Nebraska in a big hole early.
A bit later, a fumble by Dedrick Mills gave the Illini the ball on the Nebraska 2-yard line, and the next thing you knew Illinois had a 21-7 lead.
Yes, Nebraska is better than last year in a lot of ways. The Huskers are bigger, stronger, maybe even faster than a year ago.
But they aren’t good enough to spot an opponent a TD on a big run and then hand them two more touchdowns — and later another — and get called for 11 penalties for 119 yards still win the game, especially on the road.
Wait a minute. Upon further review, they are good enough to do just that.
Husker fans have been waiting for Scott Frost’s offense to break loose, and it did just that. Nebraska put up 690 yards on 98 plays.
And in the end, they walked away from Memorial Stadium in Champaign with a 42-38 win. Did you really think it was going to be easy?
It wasn’t, largely because of all those turnovers. The Huskers lost four fumbles on the night, and Illinois turned three of those into touchdowns. That’s what kept the Illini in the game.
The Nebraska offense was rather spectacular.
Quarterback Adrian Martinez certainly was spectacular himself.
Everyone had been asking what’s wrong with the sophomore QB this season. Apparently nothing.
Martinez rushed 18 times for 118 yards. He also completed 22-of-34 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns.
JD Spielman was pretty good too. He caught seven passes for 159 yards. Many of those were over the middle and he paid the price. He’ll probably be asking Martinez to throw the ball just a little bit lower so he doesn’t have to go up high for those.
Maurice Washington was rather spectacular too. He rushed 10 times for 89 yards before going out with an injury. That gave freshman Wan’Dale Robinson a chance to shine.
The freshman had a break-out performance. With Washington injured and Dedrick Mills banged up, Robinson took over as the feature back. He responded with 89 yards on 19 carries, many of them right up the middle.
Robinson also caught eight passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns.
“We got a real guy there not just from a talent perspective but from a talent perspective,” Frost told reporters after the game.
For a while, it looked like the Huskers might suffer their ninth straight road loss. Those turnovers, plus a couple of nice offensive plays by Illinois, but the Huskers in a big hole.
“We can’t spot teams advantages like that,” Frost said. “We missed a tackle, gave them a long run. They made a nice play, we gave up a long pass. At the same time we turned the ball over too many times and made too many mistakes.”
The Huskers finally took the lead on a 1-yard run by Robinson with 8 minutes left on the clock. They later had a chance with a first-and-goal on the 1, but Robinson was thrown for a loss back to the five and that possession ended in a missed field goal.
So Illinois had one last chance, but the Nebraska defense stepped up with a four-and-out this time, and all the Huskers had to do was run out the clock.
“We were beaten by a better football team,” Illinois coach Lovie Smith said. “Simple as that.”
All in all, you can’t be too choosy after eight straight road losses. A win is a win.
This was the offense Husker fans have been waiting to see. Illinois was supposed to have a pretty good defense, but Martinez and company at the Illini up and spit them out.
Now things get serious with Ohio State coming to town on Saturday. That will be a challenge like the Huskers haven’t seen
Not only are the Buckeyes coming to town, but so is College Gameday.
It could be an interesting week.
Bob Hamar is sports editor for The Independent.