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Illinois-Nebraska Preview


(AP) - Nebraska has made it through non-conference play unbeaten for the first time in three years. Rest assured, no one in the Cornhuskers' camp is celebrating.

The 21st-ranked Huskers have endured embarrassing losses at least once in each of Bo Pelini's first six seasons. That is in the backs of their minds - and, no doubt, the fans' - as they go into Big Ten play against visiting Illinois on Saturday night.

''Any given week, anything can happen,'' running back Ameer Abdullah said. ''We have had good years where we have lost to some teams that we probably should've beat and some weeks where we beat a good team that we weren't as talented as. Don't believe the hype, don't buy in to anything you hear. Don't think that just because things are going well for you now that you can't hit rock bottom at any point.''

Nebraska (4-0) hammered Miami for 343 yards rushing in a 41-31 victory last Saturday, with Abdullah running for 229 yards on a career-high 35 carries and accounting for three touchdowns.

But the glass-half-empty outlook largely is the product of three games that left the Huskers red-faced a year ago - a huge blown lead in a home loss to UCLA, a road loss to Minnesota and a home loss to Iowa.

So far this season the Huskers have been impressive, especially on offense, outside a close call against FCS McNeese State in the second game.

The Huskers are among the top 10 teams nationally in total offense and scoring, but the Miami game exposed issues on the other side of the ball. The defense allowed a season-high 435 yards, including 359 yards passing by freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya.

Nebraska knows that quarterback Wes Lunt will pass early and often for the Illini (3-1), who are coming off last Saturday's 42-35 win over Texas State. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound sophomore transfer from Oklahoma State is throwing for 309 yards per game to rank second in the Big Ten and 14th nationally. He's completed 66 percent of his attempts, and his 11 touchdown passes are most in the conference.

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''It'll be nice to know the ball is going to get slung around like at Fresno State,'' Nebraska cornerback Josh Mitchell said. ''We have to make sure our technique is good during the week and that we know the route concepts and are tuned into the game plan.''

Lunt has been especially dangerous in the second half, passing for 932 yards after halftime to lead the Illini to comeback wins over Youngstown, Western Kentucky and Texas State.

"We've played well from behind," he said, "but we just can't put ourselves in that situation against a great team on the road."

The wild card for the Illini is running back Josh Ferguson, who ran for a career-high 190 yards against Texas State. He had 114 yards rushing and caught eight passes for 82 yards in last season's 39-19 loss to Nebraska.

''To me, he's one of the better backs in the conference,'' Pelini said. ''I think their staff knows he's a good football player so they look to feature him. I would hope we understand that.''

The Huskers' points of emphasis coming off the Miami victory are tackling and pass coverage. Pelini said what should have been 5-yard gains turned into 25-yarders because of poor tackling technique.

''We went through the tape with a fine-tooth comb and thought our guys learned from it,'' Pelini said. ''We did some things that didn't hurt us in the football game that could hurt you down the line. We have to get some things cleaned up, more fundamentally and technique-wise than anything else.''

Nebraska is favored by 18 points against an Illinois team that has won three Big Ten games since 2011. Given Nebraska's close call against FCS McNeese State, Mitchell said he and his teammates will resist the urge to look past this week to the Oct. 4 road game against defending conference champion Michigan State.

''It's for keeps now,'' Mitchell said. ''Everyone in the conference is 0-0 right now. So I let my teammates know this: You want this Big Ten championship, you play every opponent like it's the national championship.''