CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- — Heinrich Haarberg threw for 154 yards and rushed for a team-leading 82 yards and a touchdown as Nebraska beat Illinois 20-7 on Friday night.
Illinois honored former Illini football star Dick Butkus, who passed away Thursday at age 80, with a number of tributes including a moment of silence before the game and a video tribute at halftime.
Seven receivers caught passes from Haarberg, who was 12-of-24 passing. His 25-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was Nebraska’s second TD in 10 seconds.
For Illinois coach Bret Bielema, the failed scoring drive was emblematic of the Illini offense’s struggles this season.
“It’s maddening, infuriating that we can’t gain six inches on two plays,” he said. “I’ve been coaching for 15 years and I’ve never been so frustrated. We’re keep having the same issues. We have to make changes. We have to change the equation.”
The Huskers marched back down the field after stopping Illinois and scored on a 31-yard field goal by Tristan Alvano.
Nebraska coach Matt Ruhle thought the goal-line stand and field goal set the tone for the game.
“After what happened last week (a 45-7 home loss to No. 2 Michigan) that was a heck of a start,” he said. “It was exactly what we needed. That’s a good Big Ten win when you give up seven points on the road to a team that goes no-huddle most of the time.”
“We had something to prove,” Gifford said. “We didn’t play our best game last week by any way, shape or form.”
“That was fun because we played as a team. Everyone contributed,” Benhart said.
Illinois (2-4, 0-3) entered the game having scored just 10 points in the first quarter all season. The Illini failed to add to that total because of a goal-line stand by the Huskers.
Nebraska took a 17-0 lead with its two quick second-quarter touchdowns.
Anthony Grant leaped into the end zone from one yard out, completing a 14-play, 79-yard drive that took 6:38.
After Nebraska recovered the ensuing kickoff, a short kick into a strong wind that Illinois mishandled, Haarberg ran untouched into the end zone.
A 55-yard field goal attempt by Illinois’ Caleb Griffin in the waning seconds of the half fell far short even with a stiff breeze at his back.
Nebraska’s Phelan Sanford forced a fumble by Griffin Moore after a pass reception early in the third quarter and Tommi Hill recovered and ran to the Illinois 13, setting up a 32-yard field goal by Alvano, the only scoring in a turnover-filled second half.
A blocked punt by Nebraska’s Blaise Gunnerson on Illinois’ next possession gave the Huskers the ball at the Illinois 18, but Alvano missed a 36-yard field goal.
Newsome avenged giving up Bryant’s TD when he intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter and returned it 39 yards. A fumble by Grant ended Nebraska’s drive on the Illinois 15.
Altmyer was 29-for-47 passing for 288 yards and a touchdown.
Illini players wore helmet stickers, coaches had the initial “DB” on their windbreakers. and the 50-yard markers on the field were outlined in orange. That was Butkus’ uniform number when he played for Illinois. His number was retired in 1986. Fans were asked to visit the statue of Butkus outside the stadium and leave flowers. A two-time consensus All-American and member of the College Football Hall of Fame, Butkus played center and linebacker for the Illini.
ONE PLAY AND OUT
Nebraska’s Marcus Washington caught a 39-yard pass from Haarberg to get the Huskers out from the shadow of their end zone in the first quarter. He suffered a knee injury on the next play, was helped off the field by teammates, and did not return to the game.
HOT AND COLD
After playing Michigan in 90-degree weather in Lincoln last week, the Huskers encountered more fall-like weather in Champaign as temperatures dropped into the high 40’s in the second half of the nearly four-game game and a brisk wind blew out of the west, knocking down punts headed in that direction.
THE TAKEAWAY Nebraska: The victory pushed the Huskers into the Big Ten West title picture. After a bye week next week, Nebraska hosts Big Ten West opponents Northwestern and Purdue then travels to Michigan State, all teams with losing records.
Illinois: The Illini offense continues to struggle and be plagued by costly turnovers. Illinois couldn’t get its ground game going against Nebraska, rushing for just 21 yards.
Nebraska: The Huskers have a bye week before hosting Northwestern.
Illinois: The Illini will play at Maryland next Saturday.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and NCAA College Football Rankings: AP Top 25 Football Poll