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Illinois puts up good effort, but Big Ten losing streak reaches 15

LINCOLN NE - OCTOBER 5: Wide receiver Steve Hull #9 Illinois Fighting Illini takes hit from cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste #16

LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 5: Wide receiver Steve Hull #9 of the Illinois Fighting Illini takes a hit from cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste #16 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers during their game at Memorial Stadium on October 5, 2013 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)

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Illinois 0 5 7 7 — 19

Nebraska 14 9 13 3 — 39

First Quarter

Neb—Abdullah 2 run (Smith kick), 11:06.

Neb—Enunwa 4 pass from Armstrong (Smith kick), 5:53.

Second Quarter

Neb—FG Smith 27, 13:04.

Ill—FG Zalewski 38, 7:50.

Neb—Cross 2 run (kick failed), 4:18.

Ill—Bates Safety, 1:44.

Third Quarter

Neb—Abdullah 43 run (Bondi kick), 12:58.

Ill—Young 1 run (Zalewski kick), 5:54.

Neb—Bell 37 pass from Armstrong (kick failed), 2:44.

Fourth Quarter

Neb—FG Smith 32, 5:16.

Ill—Ferguson 1 run (Zalewski kick), :57.

A—90,458.e_SClBTEAM STATISTICS Ill Neb

First downs 24 24

Rushes-yards 48-195 50-335

Passing 177 186

Comp-Att-Int 16-31-1 11-20-0

Return Yards 0 6

Punts-Avg. 5-40.0 1-40.0

Fumbles-Lost 1-1 3-1

Penalties-Yards 3-38 8-71

Time of Possession 32:54 27:06

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING—Illinois, Ferguson 19-114, Young 15-61, Scheelhaase 9-11, O’Toole 3-8, Bailey 2-1. Nebraska, Abdullah 20-225, Cross 15-76, T.Newby 4-19, Armstrong 9-18, Kellogg 1-(minus 1), Team 1-(minus 2).

PASSING—Illinois, Scheelhaase 13-26-1-135, O’Toole 3-5-0-42. Nebraska, Armstrong 8-13-0-135, Kellogg 3-6-0-51, Abdullah 0-1-0-0.

RECEIVING—Illinois, Ferguson 8-82, Barr 4-30, Davis 3-45, LaCosse 1-20. Nebraska, Enunwa 4-80, Bell 4-65, S.Cotton 1-17, Abdullah 1-15, J.Long 1-9.

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Updated: November 7, 2013 6:53AM



LINCOLN, Neb. — Even a cockeyed optimist would have to admit Illinois’ latest outing smacked of an inglorious past and not of a hopeful present, let alone a bright future.

It’s difficult to look at the Illini’s 39-19 defeat at Nebraska any other way. The losing streak in Big Ten games is at 15 now. The first 14 were by an average of 18.2 points. That makes this one here, in a Memorial Stadium very different from the one back home in Champaign, every bit as bad and ugly as the norm, at least on the scoreboard.

The 15-game streak — though likely to grow with Wisconsin up next after a bye week — is almost unimaginable. It coincides with what might well be a historically bad period for the Big Ten. If 2012 was a true low point for the league, as many believe, it’s hard to see why 2013 is any better.

Even most of the pretty good programs, like Nebraska, are struggling to reclaim lost glory. The unranked Huskers (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) played before 90,000 red-clad diehards, a majority of whom are wrestling with doubts that the team they love is tough enough, willful enough, Nebraska-like enough to bring back the good old days.

The Huskers looked the part against the Illini (3-2, 0-1). Tommie Frazier and Ahman Green weren’t out there on the field; it was backup quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., subbing for the injured Taylor Martinez, and running back Ameer Abdullah, who rushed for a career-high 225 yards on a preposterous 11.2 yards per carry.

“We got pushed around a little bit,” said linebacker Jonathan Brown, who did all he could with four tackles for loss and 13 stops overall. “They were big up front. We still gave it our best effort.”

The problems begin there. There’s no questioning the Illini’s effort through five games. They’re playing hard. The overall attitude among players is positive.

“There’s still confidence in our locker room,” linebacker Mason Monheim said.

Here’s the rub: Even with a Top 25 attitude, the Illini might not be talented enough — particularly on defense — to be a .500 team. The defensive line has no explosive playmakers. The crazy-young secondary can’t cover anybody. The defensive coaches? It’s hard to measure coordinator Tim Banks’ and coach Tim Beckman’s roles in this, but it’s even harder to spot the defensive improvements they claim to be seeing.

“We have a bunch of young players on this football team right now,” Beckman said. “We will continue to get bigger and stronger as we progress.

“We told our football team, ‘You are playing against a team that played in the [Big Ten] championship game last year. The next opponent [Wisconsin] will be the other one. . . . So this year, it is definitely a measuring stick.”

On the heels of a 2-10 season, the Illini don’t have to change the world to make a difference. We’ll know meaningful improvement if we see it. On Saturday, it wasn’t there. Against Nebraska, the Illini didn’t come close to measuring up.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SLGreenberg



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