football | ncaaf

Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers Pick & Prediction NOV 21TH 2020

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What do Isaiah Williams and Luke McCaffrey do for encores?

As first-time starting quarterbacks, they led Illinois and Nebraska to their first wins of a truncated football season last week. They'll try to make it two in a row in a Big Ten West Division matchup Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.

Both redshirt freshmen were more dangerous with their legs than their arms in getting the zero out of their respective team's win column. Williams set a Fighting Illini single-game record for a quarterback with 192 yards on 31 rushes in a 23-20 win at Rutgers, while McCaffrey led the Cornhuskers with 67 ground yards in their 30-23 home victory over winless Penn State.

Williams hit only 7 of 18 passes for 104 yards, but did save two big completions for the game-winning drive. He found Casey Washington for a pair of 16-yard gains, teeing up James McCourt for a 47-yard field goal with three seconds left that gave Illinois (1-3) its first lead of the year.

Making Williams' performance even more notable was that he's the Fighting Illini's fourth starter in four games. Incumbent Brandon Peters started a season-opening 45-7 loss at Wisconsin before COVID-19 sidelined him.

Matt Robinson got the call in a 31-24 loss to Purdue but didn't make it out of the first quarter before injury put him on the shelf. Coran Taylor played well in Robinson's stead against the Boilermakers, but was miserable in a 41-14 loss to Minnesota as he hit just 6 of 17 passes for 106 yards while taking four sacks.

"No one has cycled through quarterbacks more than we have," Illinois coach Lovie Smith said. "Isaiah gave us a spark on offense."

As did McCaffrey for Nebraska.

He accomplished a bit more in the air than Williams, completing 13 of 21 attempts for 152 yards and a 45-yard touchdown pass to Zavier Betts that helped the Cornhuskers (1-2) to build a 27-6 halftime lead.

McCaffrey replaced veteran Adrian Martinez, who started 23 games over the past two-plus seasons with diminishing returns. Martinez's efficiency and completion percentage has declined from his freshman year, culminating in a 12 of 27, 125-yard effort in a Nov. 7 loss at Northwestern.

"That decision was one of the hardest I've ever made," Nebraska coach Scott Frost said of benching Martinez, a two-time team captain. "I thought considering it was (McCaffrey's) first start, he did a lot of good things. There's a lot there to build on."

Ironically, Martinez has played some of his best football when facing Illinois. He accounted for 446 total yards in last year's matchup, throwing for 328 yards and rushing for 118 as the Cornhuskers survived a 42-38 shootout in Champaign. In overcoming a 35-21 third quarter deficit, Nebraska finished with a whopping 674 yards of offense.

The Cornhuskers have dominated the all-time series with a 13-3-1 advantage, including six of seven since joining the Big 10 before the 2013 season. The teams are scheduled to start the 2021 season in Dublin, Ireland, with the Illini serving as the "home" team.

--Field Level Media

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Last 10

W 40% L 60%
4 6
  • @Nebraska W 41 - 23
  • @Rutgers W 23 - 20
  • Minnesota L 41 - 14
  • Purdue L 31 - 24
  • @Wisconsin L 7 - 45
  • California L 35 - 20
  • Northwestern L 29 - 10
  • @Iowa L 10 - 19
  • @Michigan State W 37 - 34
  • Rutgers W 10 - 38
W 20% L 80%
2 8
  • @Iowa L 20 - 26
  • Illinois L 41 - 23
  • Penn State W 23 - 30
  • @Northwestern L 13 - 21
  • @Ohio State L 17 - 52
  • Iowa L 27 - 24
  • @Maryland W 54 - 7
  • Wisconsin L 37 - 21
  • @Purdue L 27 - 31
  • Indiana L 38 - 31

Next Games

  • Iowa(11-17-18) L 63 - 0
  • @Purdue(11-02-19) L 27 - 31

Last Meetings

  • Fighting Illini @ Cornhuskers 41-23
  • Cornhuskers @ Fighting Illini 42-38
  • Fighting Illini @ Cornhuskers 35-54
  • Cornhuskers @ Fighting Illini 28-6
  • Fighting Illini @ Cornhuskers 16-31
  • Cornhuskers @ Fighting Illini 13-14
  • Fighting Illini @ Cornhuskers 14-45
  • Fighting Illini @ Cornhuskers 19-39

Last Injuries

Nebraska Cornhuskers

  • Ronald Thompkins

    Ques Sat | questionable

    Thompkins has sat out the last two games with an unspecified injury, and it is unknown if he will line up against Purdue on Saturday.

  • Luke Reimer

    Ques Sat | questionable

    Reimer exited the last game with an ankle injury, and it is uncertain if he will take the field against Purdue on Saturday.

  • Sevion Morrison

    Ques Sat | questionable

    Morrison has been held out of the past three games due to an undetermined injury, and it is unknown if he will take the field on Saturday versus Purdue.

  • Deontre Thomas

    Ques Sat | questionable

    Thomas has been held out of the last two games with a head injury, and it is uncertain if he will be available against Purdue on Saturday.

  • Dedrick Mills

    Ques Sat | questionable

    Mills has sat out the previous two games due to an undefined injury, and it is uncertain if he will suit up against Purdue on Saturday.

  • Collin Miller

    Ques Sat | questionable

    Miller sat out the previous game with a head injury, and it is unclear if he will play against Purdue on Saturday.

  • Austin Allen

    Ques Sat | questionable

    Allen departed the previous contest with a neck injury, leaving his status against Purdue on Saturday unclear.

  • Omar Manning

    Ques Sat | questionable

    Manning has been absent from the lineup during the previous three games due to an unspecified reason. His status for Saturday's clash versus Purdue is hazy.

Illinois Fighting Illini

  • Moses Okpala

    Ques Sat | questionable

    Okpala has been held out of the previous four games due to COVID-19 contact tracing, and it is unknown if he will be cleared in time for Saturday's contest against Iowa.

  • Matt Robinson

    Lower Body
    Ques Sat | questionable

    Robinson has missed the past three games due to a lower-body injury, and it is uncertain if he will return against Iowa on Saturday.

  • Brevyn Jones

    Ques Sat | questionable

    Jones has been out of action due to eligibility reasons, and it is unknown if he will make his season debut on Saturday versus Iowa.

  • Marc Mondesir

    Ques Sat | questionable

    Mondesir has been absent from the lineup during the last two games due to an unspecified reason, and it is unknown if he will play in Saturday's tilt versus Iowa.

  • Alex Palczewski

    Ques Sat | questionable

    Palczewski sat out the last game due to a leg injury, and it is uncertain if it will impact his status for Saturday's clash versus Iowa.

  • Milo Eifler

    Ques Sat | questionable

    Eifler was held out of the last game with an injury to an unlisted region, and it is undetermined if he will line up against Iowa on Saturday.

  • Trevon Sidney

    Out indefinitely | out

    Sidney is sidelined with a leg injury, and there is no timetable for return.

  • Brandon Peters

    Early Dec | out

    Peters has tested positive for COVID-19, and he is expected to be out of the lineup until at least the beginning of December.