Stability and consistency have long been words associated with Nebraska’s football program but are two qualities that appear to be in short supply with the recent firing of its athletic director and continued questions about the job security of third-year coach Mike Riley. The Cornhuskers will do their best to calm the latter and try to win consecutive games for the first time since mid-November of last season Friday when they visit Illinois for a Big Ten contest.
University Chancellor Ronnie Green justified the firing of former athletic director Shawn Eichorst five days after a shocking home loss to Northern Illinois on Sept. 16 by saying in a statement that Eichorst’s “efforts have not translated into on-field performance.” Riley, who was hired by Eichorst in December of 2014 to help restore the program’s reputation as one of the nation’s best, saw his team fight through some more adversity on the field in late weekend’s 27-17 win over Rutgers - overcoming numerous injuries and a third interception return for a touchdown in two weeks. The Fighting Illini began their season by beating Ball State and Western Kentucky to get second-year coach Lovie Smith within one victory of matching last season’s win total. However, Illinois is coming off a bye week following a sloppy effort (15 penalties for 138 yards, three turnovers) at No. 17 South Florida, leading to a 47-23 setback in its first road test of the season.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1. LINE: Nebraska -6.5
ABOUT NEBRASKA (2-2, 1-0 Big Ten): The Cornhuskers played last weekend without leading rusher Tre Bryant (knee) for a second straight game as well as leading receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. (neck), but Devine Ozigbo enjoyed his second career 100-yard rushing effort while freshman JD Spielman added a career-high five catches and a score. Even with the continued injury absences of cornerback Chris Jones and safety Joshua Kalu, the defense continued its stellar play and has allowed two of its three lowest yardage totals to its opponents (213 against Northern Illinois, 194 to Rutgers) in the Riley era over the last two weeks. Brenden Jaimes, who is filling in at right tackle for David Knevel and Matt Farniok, became only the fifth true freshman since 1972 to start a game on the offensive line for Nebraska against Rutgers.
ABOUT ILLINOIS (2-1, 0-0): Smith told reporters his team is “as healthy as we’ve been in a while” and “we should have everyone ready to go,” which includes the season debuts of senior defensive end James Crawford coming off a suspension and sophomore running back Reggie Corbin, who rushed for 523 yards last season. Smith is also sticking with Chayce Crouch as his starting quarterback after he was pulled in the second half at South Florida in favor of Jeff George Jr., who finished with 211 yards passing and a TD with two interceptions in the second half. Running back Mike Epstein is tied for fourth in the nation in touchdowns among true freshmen (four) and ranks sixth in the nation among them in rushing yards per game (73.7).
1. Former Nebraska All-American center Dave Rimington (1979-82) was named as the school’s interim athletic director on Tuesday.
2. The Illini started 10 true freshmen at South Florida, setting a school record. Prior to this season, Illinois had never had 10 players log at least one start in their true freshman campaign.
3. The Cornhuskers have yielded a total of 340 yards, 16 first downs and seven offensive points in the second half of their past three games combined.
PREDICTION: Nebraska 27, Illinois 24