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Illini haven’t looked good against mobile QBs

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Washington v Illinois

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The facts: 11 a.m., ESPNU, 560-AM.

The records: Illinois 3-1, 0-0 Big Ten; Nebraska 3-1, 0-0.

The line: Nebraska by 91⁄2.

Updated: November 6, 2013 6:08AM

Saturday’s Illinois-Nebraska Big Ten opener was expected to be a battle of fifth-year senior quarterbacks in their fourth seasons as starters. You don’t get those very often in college football.

Unfortunately, a wicked case of turf toe has sidelined Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez. Making his second consecutive start in place of Martinez will be redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong, a true dual-threat guy who played very well for the Huskers in a 59-20 victory over South Dakota State. Still, no doubt the Illini’s upset chances are greater in light of this major disruption of the Huskers’ offense.

And with that, five things I don’t want to know yet about this matchup of 3-1 teams but am afraid I ­already do:

1. Armstrong will tuck the ball and run every bit as deliberately as Martinez (2,959 career rushing yards) would have. Even though there’s slightly less of a downfield passing threat with Armstrong in the game, his runs will be highly productive. The Illini haven’t looked good against mobile QBs.

2. Illini running back Josh Ferguson will have another very good game. Against the Huskers’ pass rush, Ferguson has the chance to be a huge weapon in the screen game. Ferguson’s 21.8 yards per reception lead the Big Ten.

3. Nathan Scheelhaase will have to use his legs more than he did in the first four games. Some early designed QB runs will pay dividends.

4. Terrific Nebraska cornerbacks Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste have combined for seven interceptions in four games — or seven more than all of Illinois’ cornerbacks have had. Scheelhaase has to stay away from that pair. That should mean slot receivers Martize Barr, Steve Hull and Miles Osei will see a bunch of balls head their way.

5. The Huskers start four seniors on the offensive line. They’re a big, talented unit that doesn’t give up sacks. Given the Illini’s impotent pass rush, defensive coordinator Tim Banks will have to send a lot of blitzes if he wants to test Armstrong’s decision-making. It’s dangerous, but probably worth trying. Otherwise, Armstrong will have all day to throw before the coverage eventually breaks down or he embarks on easy scrambles that move the chains.


Twitter: @SLGreenberg

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