No. 15 Nebraska has chance to get payback against Illinois
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) Nebraska is in the middle of a stretch of playing four of five games against teams it lost to last year.
Call it the Big Red Redemption Tour.
''It feels like that to me,'' coach Mike Riley said.
The 15th-ranked Cornhuskers (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten), who last week avenged a loss to Northwestern, will host an Illinois team on Saturday that beat them 14-13 in Champaign last season.
The loss was among the most excruciating of several close ones in 2015. The Huskers squandered a 13-0 fourth-quarter lead, hurt themselves with questionable play calling, and lost on the extra point that followed Wes Lunt's short touchdown pass to Geronimo Allison with 10 seconds to play.
Lunt's still the Illini quarterback , but Allison is now on the Green Bay Packers practice squad, and Lovie Smith is in his first season as head coach.
''It's a whole different team, whole different year,'' Nebraska linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey said. ''We can't think about last year. We look forward to playing this year's version of Illinois and playing as this year's version of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.''
Illinois (1-2) is playing its Big Ten opener and first road game. The Illini have lost 13 straight and 22 of their last 23 against Top 25 opponents.
They had an open date last week, and Smith said the team spent the extra time evaluating all phases of the game. Illinois has had only six pass plays go for 20 yards or longer, fewest in the Big Ten, and has allowed a conference-worst 12 pass plays of 20 yards or longer.
''I think it's pretty obvious on what we need to do better. That's what we concentrated on,'' Smith said.
Some things to watch as Nebraska goes for its eighth win in nine games:
Riley said Thursday he hasn't noticed his players being distracted by the national attention the program has received in the wake of three Nebraska players kneeling during the anthem at Northwestern last week to protest police violence and racial injustice.
''I would have to make it up if I thought I saw something that was different,'' Riley said. ''This team likes to play football. They like each other. This team has been through a lot together.''
RECEIVERS COACH RETURNS
Nebraska receivers coach Keith Williams will be back. He was suspended two weeks without pay in August and wasn't allowed to coach or attend the first four games after his arrest on suspicion of drunken driving in Lincoln. He had previous DUI convictions in 2004 and 2009. ''That was a hard, no-good situation,'' Riley said. ''I think we've been through the consequences of that, so we're excited to have him back now, full-fledged into the practices, the games, and the whole part.''
TOUGH UP FRONT
Riley said Illinois would present the toughest defensive line the Huskers have faced so far.
DE Carroll Phillips leads the nation with an average of three tackles for loss, and he's first in the Big Ten with 1.33 sacks per game. DE Gimel President is third in the Big Ten with 1.7 TFLs per game.
Illinois is tied for first in the nation in sacks with 4.33 per game and is third with 10.7 TFLs per game.
AFTER THE BYE
Illinois is coming off its only open date of the season. The Illini have lost 13 of their last 15 following a bye. Since 1985, when open dates became common, they have lost 24 of 37 after byes.
200 IS MAGIC NUMBER
Nebraska is 7-0 under Riley when rushing for 200 yards or more, including 3-0 in 2016. Illinois allowed an average of 242 yards on the ground against its two FBS opponents.
AP college football website: http://collegefootball.ap.org