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Illinois will be on the defensive against high-octane Nebraska offense

Missouri v Nebraska

Missouri v Nebraska

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Updated: November 3, 2013 6:33AM



CHAMPAIGN — Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks was channeling Norman Dale, or so it seemed. Regarding the stern test that awaits the Illini in Saturday’s Big Ten opener at Nebraska, Banks referred not to the massive size of Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, but to the standard dimensions of the playing field: 100 yards from goal line to goal line, 10 feet up to the crossbar and so on.

It was straight out of “Hoosiers,” but for the fact Banks, 41, has never seen the classic sports flick. Not that it mattered. His words were apt.

“The fans aren’t going to come out of the stands and help them,” Banks said of the 3-1 Huskers’ high-octane offense, which is averaging nearly 500 yards a game.

“We’ve got to cover the receivers. We’ve got to tackle and get off blocks. All the fundamentals remain the same. We can’t get caught up in the hoopla and the outside noise.”

The fact there’s hoopla at all is a testament to Illinois’ surprisingly good play during its own 3-1 start. Its surging offense has been noticed throughout the Big Ten and beyond. A month ago, who would’ve given the Illini half a chance to win at Nebraska? Now there’s a sense that maybe, just maybe, they’ll find themselves in a shootout.

Banks’ defense, on the other hand, has yet to create any kind of a buzz. The Huskers’ poor defensive play has their fan base in a foul mood and their coach, Bo Pelini, under fire. In stark contrast, the mere fact the Illini are winning some games has allowed their defense to struggle under the radar.

The Illini ‘D’ was fairly solid last time out against a hapless Miami (Ohio) offense. The Huskers have dual-threat senior quarterback Taylor Martinez, a stable of good running backs, better-than-usual receivers and, typically, an enormous offensive line. This challenge is a whole new animal.

The Illini want people to know they’re up for the challenge on both sides of the ball.

“They need to know we’re going to play our hearts out,” junior defensive tackle Austin Teitsma said. “We’re going to give them all we can. We’re going to be practicing as hard as we can this week to show everybody that we have a great defense.”

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @slgreenberg



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