Nebraska had a chance to impress the nation in the only Power Five matchup of Week 0. With a 30-22 loss to Illinois, consider the nation unimpressed.
Issues over the previous three seasons of the Scott Frost era: turnovers, timely mistakes, and special teams errors. Those were the same issues Saturday against the Illini.
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“We keep doing the same things,” Frost said. “It looked like the same movie. I told the players it can’t be the same movie.”
For turnovers, a Cam Taylor-Britt fielded punt turned into a safety and an Adrian Martinez fumble turned into an Illinois scoop-and-score just before halftime.
For timely mistakes, among them were the only bad snap from Cam Jurgens coming in the fourth quarter, but also missed passes from Martinez and a roughing the quarterback penalty that erased what would have been an interception.
For special teams errors, look to the Taylor-Britt safety as well as multiple punts of less than 20 yards and a pair of missed extra points.
“It was a bit of the same old story for this program that we need to get fixed,” Martinez said.
After the safety in the first quarter, Nebraska ran off nine straight points with a Markese Stepp touchdown run and a Connor Culp field goal. But Illinois used two touchdowns in the final three minutes of the half to lead 16-9 at the break.
Coming out of the half, the Illini added two more touchdowns to cap off a 28-0 lead.
“We needed to make a stand right there (but didn’t),” Frost said. “Very disappointing, man. Disappointing.”
But Nebraska made things interesting.
Martinez reeled off a 75-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter. Then late in the fourth, Martinez hit Oliver Martin for a four-yard touchdown. Another Culp missed extra point left the score at 30-22 Illinois.
Nebraska used timeouts and a defensive stand to get the ball back with 48 seconds left in the game. Martinez completed just 1-of-6 passes on the final possession as the NU season began with a loss.
Martinez finished the game 16-of-32 passing for 232 yard, adding 111 yards on the ground. This is his 14th career game with at least 300 yards of total offense, the most in school history.
Elsewhere on offense, Gabe Ervin made the first true freshman start at running back in the modern era. He carried the ball 12 times for 34 yards.
Non-QB runs accounted for just 63 yards on 21 attempts.
The vaunted receiver room was led by Oliver Martin, who reeled in 11 receptions for 103 yards. Samori Toure grabbed five passes for 37 yards, while Omar Manning (2 for 26 yards) and Wyatt Liewer (6 catches for 13 yards) round out the receivers.
Austin Allen and Chris Hickman combined for seven tight end targets, but only Allen was able to bring any in as he accumulated 23 yards on a pair of catches.
Defensively, the Blackshirts were as good as advertised for most of the first half. Pheldarious Payne notched a pair of sacks as Deontre Thomas and Garrett Nelson combined for another. Luke Reimer forced a fumble that was picked up by Myles Farmer.
But all of that pressure was neutralized in the second half. Illinois stayed committed to a run game after starting quarterback Brandon Peters was knocked out of the game.
Peters only attempted four passes, completing three of them. His backup, Artur Sitkowski, was an efficient 12-for-15 for 124 yards and two touchdowns.
Illinois ran for 167 yards on 48 attempts.
Nebraska outgained Illinois in total offense 392-326.
“I believe in my heart this team can still have a special season,” Frost said. “I expected today to go a lot different. We gotta play better an entire 60 minutes.”
Next up for Nebraska is the home opener next Saturday against Fordham.