Illi­nois and Ne­braska be­lieve they’re mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion

Belleville News-Democrat - - Front Page - BY ERIC OL­SON

Even though Illi­nois and Ne­braska have just three Big Ten wins be­tween them, both en­ter their game Satur­day be­liev­ing they’re on the verge of break­throughs.

The Illini (4-5, 2-4) have dou­bled their win to­tal from 2017 and are com­ing off their best per­for­mance of the sea­son in a 55-31 vic­tory over Min­nesota. The Corn­huskers (2-7, 1-5) went into the Horse­shoe and played eighth-ranked Ohio State to within 36-31.

“You can only get so much bet­ter with­out get­ting the re­sult you want,” Ne­braska run­ning back Devine Ozigbo said. “So we’re just go­ing to keep work­ing and keep get­ting bet­ter. Wins are the next step for this team. If it’s not now, it’s def­i­nitely go­ing to be in the fu­ture. This team is just go­ing to con­tinue to get bet­ter.”

The Huskers won two straight be­fore com­ing up short against the Buck­eyes, and any­thing less than a win over Illi- nois would be a step back, Ne­braska of­fen­sive line­man Jer­ald Foster said.

“We have three games that we think that we can win,” he said. “So we’re go­ing to keep push­ing for­ward. Illi­nois is the next game that we’re go­ing to play. We’re ex­cited for it, and play­ing against guys that I’ve grown up through col­lege with, like AJ on the other side, it’s go­ing to be a whole lot of fun.”

Illi­nois quar­ter­back AJ Bush spent the first two years of his col­lege ca­reer at Ne­braska. He played a year at Iowa West­ern Com­mu­nity Col­lege and an­other year at Virginia Tech be­fore land­ing with the Illini this sea­son.

The Illini are go­ing for their fifth win, which would be the pro­gram’s most since 2015, and must win two of their last three to be bowl el­i­gi­ble for the first time since 2014.

Illi­nois lost by 22 and 15 points in coach Lovie Smith’s first two games against Ne­braska. This year’s team is bet­ter than his first two.

“You get to a point where – boom – you can re­ally see your­self ready to take off,” Smith

ILLI­NOIS’ REG­GIE CORBIN IS AV­ER­AG­ING 106 RUSH­ING YARDS PER GAME, THIRD IN THE BIG TEN.

said. “We love be­ing three­touch­down un­der­dogs go­ing into an en­vi­ron­ment like that.”

THE RUN IS FUN: The game matches the na­tion’s two most im­proved rush­ing of­fenses. Illi­nois’ Reg­gie Corbin is av­er­ag­ing 106 yards per game to rank third in the Big Ten, and the Illini are run­ning for 249 a game – 143 more than a year ago. Ne­braska av­er­ages 217 yards on the ground, a 110-yard im­prove­ment.

AL­TER­NATE UNI­FORMS: Ne­braska will wear al­ter­nate uni­forms that pay trib­ute to the 100th an­niver­sary of the end of World War I and cel­e­brate Memo­rial Sta­dium, which was named in honor of Ne­braskans who died serv­ing their coun­try. The jer­seys will be sim­i­lar to those worn in 1923, the year the sta­dium opened, and the hel­met de­sign gives a nod to the leather hel­mets of yes­ter­year.

WORK­ING FAST: Illi­nois has 16 scor­ing drives of less than a minute, third-most in the FBS be­hind Alabama and Utah State and tied with Clem­son. Twelve of the 16 drives have come against Big Ten com­pe­ti­tion, in­clud­ing three last week against Min­nesota. In 2017, the Illini had four such drives all sea­son.

ILLINI STRUG­GLE IN LIN­COLN: Illi­nois has lost eight of nine games in Lin­coln, in­clud­ing four straight since a 9-6 win in 1924. In that game, Ne­braska held Red Grange score­less for the first time in his ca­reer.

COULD BE COLD: Cal­i­for­ni­aborn Ne­braska quar­ter­back Adrian Martinez isn’t wor­ried about how he will han­dle the weather. The fore­cast calls for tem­per­a­tures in the mid-20s at kick­off with the breeze mak­ing it feel colder.

“We prac­tice in the morn­ings all the time, I have a hand warmer,” he said. “I can’t com­plain. We have heaters on the side­line. I think I’ll be just fine.”

Cal­i­for­nia-born Ne­braska quar­ter­back Adrian Martinez isn’t wor­ried about how he will han­dle the weather against Illi­nois. The fore­cast calls for tem­per­a­tures in the mid-20s at kick­off with the breeze mak­ing it feel colder. “We prac­tice in the morn­ings all the time, I have a hand warmer,” he said. “I can’t com­plain. We have heaters on the side­line. I think I’ll be just fine.”

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