Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illini Set to Face Embattled Nebraska Squad

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illini Set to Face Embattled Nebraska Squad

Article excerpt

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. * Imagine a college football program that has its fans in an uproar over slipping performance.

Imagine a program that fires its athletics director in the middle of the season.

Imagine a program whose head coach is already viewed as "dead man walking."

Not long ago that description fit the University of Illinois to a T. But as they arrive at Memorial Stadium for Friday night's showdown, it's the Nebraska Cornhuskers who carry the burden of uncertainty.

Slipping to 1-2 on Sept. 16 after being upended in a home game against Northern Illinois, chaos ensued. Five days later, AD Shawn Eichorst was fired. Mike Riley, hired by Eichorst, saw his Nebraska record slip to 16-13, not nearly good enough to satisfy proud Nebraska fans who still remember winning three national championships in the 1990s.

Things have settled down in the days since. Nebraska managed to fight past Rutgers 27-17 and former Nebraska football All-American Dave Rimington was named interim AD.

Now the affable Riley brings Nebraska to Champaign hoping to keep building positive momentum with games against No. 10 Wisconsin and No. 11 Ohio State looming next.

Nebraska has been mistake-prone on offense with quarterback Tanner Lee having thrown nine interceptions including three pick-sixes to offset his seven touchdown passes.

But there appears to be the makings of a solid running game and if the Huskers can establish the run against a young Illini defense, maybe Lee won't have to throw some of the high-risk passes that have landed him in trouble.

"For us it's about getting the offense off the field," Illini defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson said. "And we still want to score on defense and take the ball away three-plus times. But where we've had trouble is when we struggle on third down."

With top wideout Stanley Morgan limited due to a neck injury (he is expected to play Friday), Nebraska has discovered another dangerous weapon in redshirt freshman slot receiver JD Spielman.

The 5-foot-9 speedster is making plays on offense and on special teams, having returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown in the season opener and having returned another kick 50 yards against Oregon. …

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