Illinois hangs on, beats Nebraska in FBS opener 30-22
For the first time since 1923-24, Illinois has beaten Nebraska in consecutive years, this time with a 30-22 Illini win in Champaign.
Illinois sophomore QB Artur Sitkowski came into the game during the first quarter after Brandon Peters left due to an injury. The Rutgers transfer would go 12-for-15 with 124 passing yards and two touchdowns to cap off his first win as an Illini.
The second and third quarters proved to be valuable for Illinois as they went on a 28-0 run during that timespan. Nebraska did attempt a comeback once down 30-9 in the third thanks to an Adrian Martinez 75-yard touchdown run and a short touchdown pass from Martinez to Oliver Martin. Those two touchdowns gave them a chance to be within 7 of the lead with a bit over two minutes left to play, but Nebraska kicker Connor Culp missed his second point after attempt following the final touchdown.
On the offensive side of the ball for Nebraska, Martinez went 16-for-32 passing with 232 yards and a touchdown along with 111 yards, a touchdown and a fumble on the ground. No other rusher recorded more than 20 yards for Nebraska. WR Oliver Martin did put up a team high 103 receiving yards on six receptions to go along with his touchdown.
For Nebraska, this loss makes fourth-year head coach Scott Frost 12-21 during his time in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers are now 1-3 in season openers under Frost. The same can't be said for Illinois' new head coach Bret Bielema, who made his triumphant return to the Big Ten after leaving Wisconsin in 2012. He is now 38-19 in Big Ten play over his eight seasons in the conference.
The Illini will stay at home for their next game when the UTSA Roadrunners visit on Sep. 4 at 6:30 p.m. Nebraska will face off against Fordham at home on Sep. 4 at noon in an attempt to get to 1-1 on the season.
Illinois 30, Nebraska 22 | 2:41 Q4
Illinois 30, Nebraska 16 | 3:48 Q3
Nebraska is showing signs of life after Illinois went on a 28-0 run. Adrian Martinez broke loose for a 75-yard touchdown run to bring the Cornhuskers within 14 of the Illini. Martinez is 6-15 with 112 yards in the air along with 71 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Illinois 30, Nebraska 9 | 4:01 Q3
Illinois 23, Nebraska 9 | 6:56 Q3
Illinois' Artur Sitkowski leads a methodical eight-minute drive 75 yards down the field for another Illini touchdown. Sitkowski finished it off with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Luke Ford. Illinois leads by 14, and Nebraska will now get the ball for the first time this half and a chance to respond.
The Illini have scored 21 points in a row since trailing 9-2.
Illinois 16, Nebraska 9 | Half
Although this game got off to a slow start, Illinois and Nebraska picked up the pace in the second quarter. Nebraska let the Illini back in the game after a would-be interception was overturned by two Cornhusker penalties. That drive would evolve into an Illinois touchdown to tie the game at nine.
Illinois' starting QB Brandon Peters will miss the rest of the game after leaving late in the first quarter with an injury. Sophomore Artur Sitkowski stepped up after Peters' departure, he went 4-5 with 36 yards and will continue to lead the offense in the second half.
Illinois 16, Nebraska 9 | 0:37 Q2
Illinois gets a scoop-and-score touchdown just before halftime. Nebraska's Adrian Martinez tried to escape the pocket, but Illinois' Calvin Hart Jr. picks it up and takes it 41 yards to the house.
Illinois 9, Nebraska 9 | 2:51 Q2
Illinois responds after a Nebraska field goal to tie the game up at nine. The six-minute drive was extended due to a roughing the passer and taunting penalty on Nebraska for what would have been a play that was originally an interception. The drive was capped off by a one-yard Mike Epstein touchdown run.
Nebraska 6, Illinois 2 | 14:25 Q2
Nebraska's Markese Stepp punches in a two-yard run for the first touchdown of the season. The Cornhuskers put together a 63-yard drive to get six. Kicker Connor Culp missed the point after, but they do get their first lead of the day over Illinois.
Illinois 2, Nebraska 0 | 4:07 Q1
Illinois is forced to punt on fourth down, but the Illini are given a gift by Nebraska's Cam Taylor-Britt, who is called for an illegal forward pass in the end zone. It would later be reviewed and ruled that Taylor-Britt was down by contact in the end zone. Either way, Illinois picks up the first points of the 2021 season.
Oh noooooo 😬— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) August 28, 2021
After official review, the call on the field is confirmed and the first points of the season come on a safety! pic.twitter.com/DUgLifS2h0
Nebraska and Illinois kick off the 2021 CFB season
The wait is over, college football is back. The Nebraska Cornhuskers will travel to Champaign, IL, to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini in the first college football game of the season.
Illinois will come into this game under their new head coach Bret Bielema who went 97-58 as a head coach with Wisconsin (2006-12) and Arkansas (2013-17). On offense, Bielema will be returning eight starters including senior QB Brandon Peters, sophomore RB Chase Brown and senior LT Vederian Lowe. Last season, the Illini managed to put together a 2-6 record in a shortened Big Ten season. Their new-look coaching staff will try to get the program back on the right track this year.
Nebraska's head coach Scott Frost will be heading into his fourth year at the helm, and just like Illinois, he too will be looking to right the ship. Frost has managed to put together a 12-20 record in the past three years at his alma mater. He will have a familiar face under center with junior QB Adrian Martinez starting his 29th career game this weekend. On defense, the Cornhuskers will have eight starters returning, including one of the top Big Ten cornerbacks in junior Cam Taylor-Britt.
A win to open the season could help boost either of these teams to a turn-around season, as both opened 2020 with a loss. It will also help recognize what aspects of their game need to be addressed heading into the rest of the season.
Here is the schedule for Saturday's game in Champaign:
How to watch Nebraska vs. Illinois
The 2021 college football season kicks off with a Big Ten battle. Nebraska will visit Illinois as both the Cornhuskers and the Fighting Illini will try to get an early conference win to build momentum for the season.
- Time: 1 p.m. ET
- Date: Saturday, Aug. 28
- TV channel: FOX
- Streaming: Foxsports.com
- Location: Memorial Stadium in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois
- Stats: Follow live here
Previewing Nebraska vs. Illinois
The 2021 FBS season starts as Nebraska visits Illinois in an early season Big Ten clash. The game will kick off at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday, Aug. 28, at Memorial Stadium in Urbana-Champaign, IL.
Nebraska and Illinois enter the game looking to rebound after finishing last season 3-5 and 2-6, respectively. While Illinois last reached a bowl game in the 2019 season, Nebraska hasn't been bowling since 2016.
Nebraska returns several players on the offensive end, none more important than QB Adrian Martinez. The playmaking Martinez led the Huskers in passing and rushing yards last year. He’ll have weapons like TE Austin Allen to help lead Nebraska’s offense to success.
Defensively, DT Ben Stille plugs the middle up front. On the back end, LB JoJo Domann is one of the most versatile players in the Big Ten. Domann’s coverage ability allows him to play in the box and the slot as a chess piece in Nebraska’s defense. Covering the outside is CB Cam Taylor-Britt, an explosive athlete who also returns punts for the Huskers.
For Illinois, RB Chase Brown is back after his 540 rushing yards led the team last year. He’ll try to better those numbers running behind C Doug Kramer and the Fighting Illini offensive line. Under new coach Bret Bielema, Illinois’ rushing attack should improve.
A defensive boost comes in the return of pass rushing specialist DL Owen Carney. A fifth-year senior, Carney is coming off a season with seven tackles for loss and five sacks. Carney is joined in the front seven by LB Jake Hansen. Together, they’ll be vital to shutting down opposing offenses.
The players at Nebraska and Illinois are aiming to build off of last season in what looks to be a competitive opening contest.
The Huskers and Fighting Illini will look to gain an early conference win on their resume to start the season.
Nebraska vs. Illinois: Series history
The Nebraska Cornhuskers first played the Illinois Fighting Illini way back in 1892 when the Fighting Illini traveled to Lincoln to lose, 6-0. Fast forward to the 21st century, and the Huskers have won six out of the last eight meetings since joining the Big Ten. In last season's matchup, Illinois defeated Nebraska 41-23 to end Nebraska's four-game win streak.
Nebraska leads the series 13-4-1. Here are all the meetings since 2000:
|Nov. 21, 2020||Lincoln, NE||Illinois||41-23|
|Sept. 21, 2019||Champaign, IL||Nebraska||42-38|
|Nov. 10, 2018||Lincoln, NE||Nebraska||54-35|
|Sept. 29, 2017||Champaign, IL||Nebraska||28-6|
|Oct. 1, 2016||Lincoln, NE||Nebraska||31-16|
|Oct. 3, 2015||Champaign, IL||Illinois||14-13|
|Sept. 27, 2014||Lincoln, NE||Nebraska||45-14|
|Oct. 5, 2013||Lincoln, NE||Nebraska||39-19|