Nebraska slips past Illinois 42-38 in conference opener
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez took the blame for his team’s poor first half performance against Illinois on Saturday night.
“I didn’t play as well tonight as I should have,” he said. “I’ll take the blame for that.”
He was serious, too.
In reality, Martinez passed for 327 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Cornhuskers over Illinois 42-38 in the Big Ten Conference opener for both teams. Martinez also rushed 18 times for 188 yards.
The Cornhuskers (3-1, 1-0) put up 690 yards of total offense compared to 299 by Illinois (2-2, 0-1).
Wan’Dale Robinson carried the ball 19 times for 89 yards and a touchdown. Dedrick Mills rushed 12 times for 62 yards and a touchdown.
“Wan’Dale did his job,” Martinez said. “And he did it at a high level. He was ready to go.”
Nebraska coach Scott Frost thought his quarterback did a pretty decent job, too.
“He (Martinez) is a good player. I’m glad he wears the scarlet and cream,” Frost said. “He goes in and wants to take over a game. He is clearly capable of that.”
Brandon Peters was 9 of 22 for 78 yards passing with a touchdown and one interception for Illinois. Reggie Corbin carried the ball 20 times for 134 yards and a touchdown. Ra’Von Bonner and Peters also had rushing touchdowns for the Illini.
Illinois took advantage of several Nebraska miscues early and led 21-14 at the half. Perhaps the biggest Cornhusker mistake was a fumble by Mills early in the second quarter at the Illinois 2-yard line after being pinned there by a 53-yard punt by the Illini’s Blake Hayes.
Corbin carried the ball in on the next play, giving Illinois a 21-7 lead at that point. Corbin carried the ball ten times for 91 yards in the first half.
“We can’t spot teams advantages like that,” Frost said. “We turned the ball over too many times and made too many mistakes. We just can’t do that.”
Martinez said the team knew what it had to do. “At halftime, we knew we had to come out steely eyed and confident,” he said. “We needed to just do our jobs, and we did.”
Nebraska tied the game at 35-35 on the first series of the fourth quarter on Mills’ touchdown run and a two-point conversion run by Martinez.
“We had a chance to win the game on that final drive,” Illinois coach Lovie Smith said. “What else is there to say? They rushed us well and didn’t let us get our passes off.”
Smith said he and the Illinois coaching staff will “look at everything” during the upcoming bye week.
“We’ll look at what we need to do going forward,” he said. “But are we going to make wholesale changes? No.”
THE 900 CLUB
With Saturday’s win, Nebraska became the sixth college program to win 900 games. They join Michigan, Ohio State, Texas, Alabama and Notre Dame. The Huskers are 900-389-40 all-time.
BREAKING THE STREAK
Coming into Champaign, the Cornhuskers were 0-7 on the road under second-year coach Scott Frost, and in four of those games they were tied or led in the second half.
It was an entertaining game that either team could have won. But Nebraska was able to overcome numerous mistakes to take control in the fourth quarter.
Nebraska: Hosts Ohio State next Saturday.
Illinois: Travels to Minnesota on Oct 5.
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