Photo courtesy of Craig Pessman/Illinois athletics

After getting its first win over a much-improved Rutgers team last Saturday, Illinois is looking to keep its winning ways going. Illinois is looking to snap a four-game losing streak to Nebraska. This contest can be seen Saturday at 11 a.m. CT on Fox Sports 1.

The Fighting Illini will travel to Memorial Stadium in Lincoln to take on the 1-2 Cornhuskers.

Illinois is coming off of a much-needed 23-20 win over the Scarlet Knights last weekend. That was just the match-up the Illini needed, having now won four of the last five over Rutgers.

Illinois is hoping this gives it some momentum to win a few games in a row and finish the season strong. This is a winnable game for the Illini. If they want to finish with more than one win on the year, this is their best chance. Illini fans are pretty familiar with Nebraska.

Luckily, at Fifth Quarter, we have a ton of very talented writers that are exceptionally familiar with the teams they cover. To give fans a better idea of what the Illini will look like against the Huskers, we talked to FQ Illinois account manager and writer, Noah Jones, on what he sees with this Saturday’s match-up:

If Nebraska had to watch two players — one offense and one defense — for Illinois, which players would that be?

I’ll start with defense since that’s the most obvious answer for me. The Huskers are going to have to watch out for linebacker Jake Hansen. Hansen led the nation in forced fumbles last year with seven and has started right where he left off with two already this season. He’s also a tackling machine with 37 so far this year and a combined 167 the past two years. It should also be mentioned that after struggling in passing coverage early in his career, he’s shown huge strides so far this season.

The offense is trickier because the best players haven’t necessarily had good years so far. I want to say Josh Imatorhbehbe because he has big-play ability every time he steps on the field. I’m going to go with running back Chase Brown though. Although he’s yet to score this year, I think that changes Saturday. He’s led the running game with 247 yards. After two bad showings in the first three games, he finally showed why Illinois wanted the Western Michigan transfer when he ran for 131 yards on just 17 carries against Rutgers. I definitely think he has a big game Saturday. 

Coming off of its first win of the season, what was the most positive thing from the win for Illinois and what was the most negative thing from the win?

The most positive thing for the Illini last week was that the defense finally was able to force turnovers. It’s been shown that anyone can move the football on them, so turnovers are a must for this team. The Illini forced three turnovers, all interceptions in the second half. They only turned those turnovers into six points, but the defense did their job there.

A negative from this game was the kicking game. Sure, James McCourt hit the game-winner with three seconds left on the clock, but he also missed two field goals as well. Don’t get me wrong, McCourt can obviously make big kicks and doesn’t let the pressure get to him. He made the game-winner to upset Wisconsin last year as well. I also don’t think it’s time to switch kickers to Caleb Griffin just yet either. To be fair, both kicks were over 40 yards with one even being over 50 yards. I just think the two missed kicks are something we need to keep an eye on.

What scares you about this Huskers team?

The thing that scares me about this Huskers team is their running game. They did run for 346 yards against the Illini just last year. It’s not just the running backs that scare me, it’s Luke McCaffrey, the dual-threat quarterback. I mean McCaffery leads the team in both rushing and passing. He hasn’t even been the starter the whole year. Now, I’m not sure if that shows how much Nebraska has struggled, or if it shows how good McCaffery is going to be. Regardless, the running game really scares me this week against the Illini defense. 

What are your overall expectations for Illinois this weekend?

To be honest, I expect the defense to struggle a little this weekend. They haven’t shown much improvement so far this year. On the other hand, I expect the offense to have a very good game. It seems that Brandon Peters will start at quarterback but I fully expect Isaiah Williams to get a decent amount of time on the field as well. I wouldn’t say that I’m expecting a win. I’m more expecting Illinois to keep it close throughout, giving themselves a chance to win it at the end.

Prediction

Shayler (FQ Staff): Nebraska 30, Illinois 21

Noah: Nebraska 35, Illinois 31