Stinkin’ lands in Lin­coln

Illini fum­ble, stum­ble their way to an­other dis­mal loss in Ne­braska

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL BASEBALL - By Shan­non Ryan sryan@chicagotri­bune.com Twit­ter @sryantri­bune

Illi­nois has two games re­main­ing to show im­prove­ment af­ter Satur­day’s 54-35 loss at Ne­braska, an­other dread­ful de­feat pinned on the de­fense and spe­cial teams.

It was the fifth loss out of six in which the Illini (4-6, 2-5 Big Ten) gave up at least 45 points while al­low­ing op­pos­ing play­ers to look like Heis­man Tro­phy can­di­dates.

Corn­huskers fresh­man quar­ter­back Adrian Martinez passed for 290 yards and three touch­downs and ran for 55 yards and a score, and Devine Ozigbo rushed for 162 yards and three touch­downs with ca­reer-best scor­ing runs of 66 and 60 yards.

Coach Lovie Smith’s third sea­son wraps up with a home game Satur­day against Iowa and a trip to North­west­ern on Nov. 24. Here are three take­aways from Satur­day’s loss in Lin­coln, Neb.

1. Illi­nois was its own worst en­emy. The Illini have taken pride this sea­son in win­ning the turnover bat­tle, but Ne­braska scored 24 points off five Illi­nois turnovers, in­clud­ing two muffed punts. The Illini fum­bled seven times, los­ing three.

The muffed punts by Car­los Sandy and Jor­dan Holmes in the sec­ond quar­ter led to a field goal and touch­down for the Huskers. In be­tween, quar­ter­back AJ Bush Jr. fum­bled at the end of a 9-yard run to the Ne­braska 23 as the Illini were driv­ing to make it a onescore game.

Af­ter go­ing to the locker room down 38-21, Illi­nois was driv­ing again to open the sec­ond half when Bush was in­ter­cepted in Ne­braska ter­ri­tory af­ter his pass bounced off Do­minic Stam­p­ley’s hands.

The Huskers then took 7:48 off the clock with a 17-play, 82-yard touch­down drive that es­sen­tially put the game away.

In ad­di­tion to the muffed punts, Illi­nois had a punt blocked for a safety in the fourth quar­ter.

2. Big plays con­tinue to haunt the de­fense. Two weeks af­ter Mary­land gashed the Illini for seven of­fen­sive touch­downs of at least 25 yards, the Huskers had four scores of 30-plus yards: Ozigbo’s two long runs and firstquar­ter passes from Martinez to Stan­ley Mor­gan Jr. of 37 and 32 yards.

Ne­braska fin­ished with 606 to­tal yards, in­clud­ing 316 on the ground. The Huskers av­er­aged a whop­ping 9.3 yards per carry and 8.5 per pass at­tempt.

3. The of­fense needs bet­ter bal­ance. Illi­nois’ rush­ing game re­mains a strength, even with Reg­gie Corbin leav­ing in the sec­ond quar­ter with an ap­par­ent right leg in­jury and Mike Ep­stein not mak­ing the trip be­cause of an in­jury.

Bush — in his re­turn to his orig­i­nal col­lege — set a school rush­ing record for a quar­ter­back with 187 yards and scored three touch­downs, and Ra’Von Bon­ner (81 yards) and Dre Brown (51) helped show­case Illi­nois’ run­ning back depth. Corbin (59 yards) sur­passed the 1,000-yard mark be­fore get­ting hurt, and the Illini fin­ished with 383 rush­ing yards, the third time this sea­son they have topped 300.

But Bush threw for only 126 yards on 11-of-25 pass­ing with two in­ter­cep­tions, and his re­ceivers strug­gled with dropped passes, in­clud­ing the one off Stam­p­ley’s hands for the pick. Stam­p­ley tweeted, “Worst game of my life 100 I let the pro­gram down.”

STEVEN BRANSCOMBE/GETTY

Among Illi­nois’ many mis­cues Satur­day, quar­ter­back AJ Bush Jr. in­ad­ver­tently ran into the ref­eree and knocked him to the ground — while cel­e­brat­ing a touch­down, no less. Bush went back to help him up.

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