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October 1, 2013
The Fighting Illini travel to Nebraska for their first true road game of the year on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 11am CT at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.
Orange and Blue News caught up with Sean Callahan from HuskerOnline.com to get the inside scoop on Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers had the week off after the 50-29 win over South Dakota State on Sept. 21. What did the coaches focus on during the bye week?
Sean Callahan: Really they got back to the basics. Nebraska has such a young defense right now with predominantly freshmen and sophomores on their front seven. For a lot of these guys they needed a week to catch their breath and bet back to the fundamentals of the game. They did two days of physical hard hitting last week as well, because those guys need all the live work they can get. They almost went back to a fall camp style practice on Tuesday and Wednesday.
For veterans like quarterback Taylor Martinez and wide receivers Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa they used the bye week to rest up and heal any bumps and bruises.
Nebraska has a couple of redshirt freshmen on the roster who chose Nebraska over Illinois, among others - DT Vincent Valentine and WR Jordan Westerkamp. How are those two coming along?
Callahan: Both players redshirted the 2012 season and look like very promising players in the future. Valentine is currently Nebraska's starting nose tackle and has the chance to be a four-year starter. His biggest thing is keeping his weight down and being able to play four quarters.
Westerkamp is Nebraska's starting punt returner heading into the Illinois game. He's also their No. 2 slot receiver and will see some snaps at wide receiver behind Jamal Turner. They say he has the surest hands on the team and runs very good routes.
It seems like QB Taylor Martinez has been at Nebraska forever. What kind of season is Martinez having, and what does he bring to the field for the Huskers.
Callahan: The question this week is if Martinez will even play on Saturday. He's been battling a turf toe injury that's limited his running ability all season. They sat him out against South Dakota State and most speculate they could rest him again this week. If Martinez can't run he's a completely different quarterback and that was a main reason why the offense struggled against UCLA. His throwing has improved, but without his running game to compliment it he's a completely different quarterback.
The Nebraska offense is getting it done, averaging over 43 points per game. What kind of scheme do the Huskers run, and who are the players to watch on that side of the football.
Callahan: Nebraska runs an up-tempo no huddle offense. What's different about their scheme though compared to others that run this system is they will play physical. Nebraska will run no huddle with two tight ends on the field and even a fullback at times. They aren't a dink and dunk spread team.
They want to try to run it for 300 yards. Last time out against South Dakota State they ran for over 300 and threw for over 300 with two back-up quarterbacks playing.
They have three very good running backs and arguably the best group of receivers in school history. Ameer Abdullah will get about 20 carries or more Saturday, while Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa are both NFL caliber wide receivers. On the offensive line it's the strongest group Bo Pelini's had, with predominantly fifth-year seniors leading the way. NU has only given up two sacks all season.
As good as the offense has been, the Nebraska defense ranks towards the bottom of the Big Ten and are yielding 463.8 yards per game. What do they need to do to step it up, and who are some of the players who are going to carry that defense if they are to get back on track?
Callahan: The defense remains a major question for Nebraska. They are so young that some of the simple things have given them the most problems. They've had trouble lining up and handling up-tempo offenses. Tackling has been a problem as well.
As for top guys to watch, Randy Gregory has been far and away their most impressive guy at defensive end. He's a big time pass rusher. In the secondary both Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste lead the Big Ten in interceptions. Safety Corey Cooper - who's a Chicago native, is probably their hardest overall hitter.
How are you expecting the game against Illinois to play out, and do you have a prediction for a final score?
Callahan: I think the week off will really help Nebraska. They've done their best to take advantage of it and it should really help their young defense. Having the game at home should also help Nebraska quite a bit. I look for Illinois to put up some points, but in the end I think they can't match NU's offense. I'll take Nebraska 45 Illinois 31.