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Nebraska, Illinois seek change from similar slow starts

Nebraska and host Illinois, each coming off blowout losses in Big Ten Conference play, face off on a short week on Friday night in Champaign, Ill.

Illinois (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten) fell 44-19 at Purdue, while Nebraska (2-3, 0-2) was crushed 45-7 at home by No. 2 Michigan. Each is trying to avoid a 0-3 start in the conference for the first time since 2020 (for Illinois) and 2018 (for Nebraska), respectively.

“Nebraska is very similar to our situation,” Illinois coach Bret Bielema said. “But I think this week is a lot about us.”

The Fighting Illini allowed a season-low 406 yards to Purdue but gave up 31 points on five red-zone possessions. For the season Illinois has yielded 23 scores on 26 trips inside its 20-yard line, compared to 23 on 31 all of 2022.

Nebraska came up scoreless in its two red-zone possessions against Michigan and has been inside the opposing 20 on only 12 occasions this season.

The Cornhuskers will continue to go with sophomore Heinrich Haarberg at quarterback, even with Jeff Sims getting closer to 100 percent following a high ankle sprain. Haarberg is Nebraska’s leading rusher (270 yards), but had minus-2 against Michigan, so there could be a splitting of snaps.

“I feel very confident with Heinrich being the starting quarterback,” Nebraska coach Matt Rhule said. “That being said, I also have a lot of confidence in Jeff. I’m getting them both ready. I have full confidence in Heinrich. I’ll do whatever it takes to win.”

Illinois may again be without leading rusher Reggie Love III (44 carries, 248 yards), who sat out the last game with an ankle injury.

The Illini have won the last three meetings, including a 26-9 victory at Nebraska last October, but the Cornhuskers hold a 13-6-1 lead in the series. Nebraska’s last win in Champaign came in 2019.

–Field Level Media

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