LINCOLN, Neb. — The Fighting Illini football team used five Nebraska turnovers to top the Cornhuskers 41-23, in what head coach Lovie Smith called a historic victory.
“I’m told we haven’t won in Lincoln since 1924, when Red Grange played,” Smith said. “Whenever something like that happens, of course, it’s a big deal.”
Quarterback Brandon Peters returned to action for the first time since a positive COVID-19 test on October 30th. He completed 18-25 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown. Mike Epstein rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown, and Chase Brown added another 110 yards on the ground, including two touchdowns.
Smith said Illinois’ ground game was a team effort.
“We’re a running football team. We make a statement, we get off the bus running the ball,” Smith said. “In order for that to happen, though, the offensive line and everybody that blocks, receivers, and of course tight ends, too, they take pride in that. When you can get your running game going like that, it’s tough on a defense.”
The big difference in the game was turnovers. The Illini recovered two Husker fumbles, and picked off Nebraska quarterback Luke McCaffrey three times. Jake Hansen, Tarique Barnes and Tony Adams each intercepted a pass. By contrast, Illinois lost zero fumbles, and Peters threw no interceptions.
Adams and Khalan Tolson led the Illini in tackles with thirteen and ten, respectively.
McCaffrey rushed for a game high 122 yards and also completed 15-26 pass attempts for 134 yards. Backup quarterback Adrian Martinez added 43 yards passing on 3-4 accuracy, including one touchdown.
The game was paused in the 4th quarter when Nebraska linebacker Collin Miller fell motionless to the ground after a head-to-head collision with Epstein. Miller was strapped to a spinal board and transported to Lincoln’s Bryan Medical Center. After the game, Nebraska head coach Scott Frost said Miller had sensation everywhere in his body and a full range of motion. A press release from Nebraska Athletics later said results of diagnostic imaging and testing were normal, but Miller was kept overnight at the hospital for observation.
With the loss, the Huskers drop to 1-3 on the season. Illinois improves to 2-3. The Illini return to action Saturday in Champaign against third-ranked, undefeated Ohio State. That kickoff is scheduled for 11:00am central time on Fox Sports 1.