LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska gained 521 yards of offense, improving to 4-1 and 1-0 in the Big Ten with a 39-19 win on Saturday at Memorial Stadium over Illinois.
Here’s what we know now that we didn’t before the game:
Tommy Armstrong Jr. wasn’t a one-game wonder: It’s one thing for Nebraska’s redshirt freshman quarterback to put up big numbers in cooperation with senior Ron Kellogg III against FCS-level South Dakota State; it’s another to do it against a Big Ten foe as the featured guy. Kellogg played just two series, as Armstrong showed no nerves from the start. He led the Huskers to touchdowns on his first three drives. He looked good in the passing game on a tough day to throw, as strong winds swirled through the stadium. Armstrong appears headed back to bench before long with Taylor Martinez's return, but the Huskers know they’ve got a capable backup.
The Huskers may be on the right track defensively: Give credit to the defensive coaches for shaking it up on Saturday. After a tumultuous nonconference ride, the Huskers promised change. And they got some. Jobs are not safe, evidenced by the emergence on Saturday of redshirt freshmen LeRoy Alexander at safety and Jared Afalava at linebacker. In a reversal from past weeks, the defense often got stops when it needed them, notably late in the first half after momentum began to swing when Illinois nailed Imani Cross for a safety to cut the Huskers’ lead to 18 points. Maybe the Blackshirts are turning the corner.
Nebraska’s place-kicking is a concern: Who wants to take control here? Mauro Bondi and Pat Smith missed extra points on Saturday. Nebraska has shanked three this year, an unusual development after years of great kicking at the school. Coach Bo Pelini said the game served as an extension of last week’s practices, in which the kickers were not sharp. As he said, that kind of performance will hurt the Huskers in a Big Ten game -- perhaps cost them a victory. Not only that, missed extra points don’t inspire confidence that Smith and Bondi will hit field goals, though Smith did connect Saturday from 27 and 32 yards.