Courtesy of Huskers.com
Nebraska opens its 132nd season on Saturday when the Huskers travel to Illinois for the earliest conference game in Big Ten history. The Huskers and Fighting Illini are meeting in Week 0 because the game was originally set to be played in Ireland, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the game to be moved to Illinois.
Head Coach Scott Frost begins his fourth season at his alma mater in 2021, while Saturday’s season opener marks the Illinois head coaching debut for Bret Bielema. The Huskers saw their four-game win streak in the series snapped last season, as Illinois earned the victory in Lincoln.
Nebraska has won the past two meetings in Champaign, and the Huskers bring a two-game road winning streak into Saturday’s game after the Huskers won at Purdue and Rutgers last December. Nebraska went 2-3 away from home last season with all three losses to teams that finished the year ranked in the top 20, including one-possession losses at No. 10 Northwestern and No. 16 Iowa.
The Huskers return a veteran defense that brings back 15 players who earned at least one start last season. Eight players who started at least seven of Nebraska’s eight games last season return this fall, including Marquel Dismuke, JoJo Domann and Garrett Nelson, who each started every game in 2020.
Offensively, Adrian Martinez is back for his fourth year as Nebraska’s starting quarterback. Martinez, who owns four Nebraska career records and five season marks, is one of only four active FBS players with 5,000 career passing yards and 1,500 career rushing yards. He was second among all FBS quarterbacks in rushing during the 2020 season (74.4 ypg), while ranking fourth in completion percentage (71.5).
Series History: Nebraska vs. Illinois
Nebraska leads the all-time series with Illinois, 13-4-1. The Huskers are 6-2 against the Illini since joining the Big Ten Conference in 2011.
• Nebraska had won the past four meetings with Illinois before the Illini won in Lincoln last season. The four-game win streak was the longest for Nebraska against any Big Ten opponent since joining the conference in 2011.
• Nebraska posted a 54-35 victory over Illinois in 2018. The 54 points tied for the most Nebraska scored in a conference game in its first 10 years in the Big Ten.
• Nebraska and Illinois are also scheduled to open the season against each other in Champaign in 2025.
• Before joining the Big Ten, Nebraska and Illinois last met in a home-and-home series in 1985 and 1986, with the Huskers winning both of those matchups.
Husker History in Season Openers
Nebraska has an impressive history in season openers. The Huskers have won 98 of their 131 season openers, winning their first game more than 77 percent of the time while posting a 98-28-5 record.
• Nebraska is 32-3 in its first game of the season dating back to 1986.
• The Huskers are opening a season on road for the second straight year, the only two times this century that Nebraska has played its season opener on the road. N U is also scheduled to open away from home in 2022 and 2023. Against Illinois, the Huskers are looking to win their first season opener on the road since a 42-7 non-conference victory at Iowa to open the 1999 campaign.
• Nebraska is 11-2 when it opens the season against a conference opponent. The Huskers are facing a conference foe in the season opener for just the fourth time in the last 73 seasons. NU has opened each of the last two seasons with a conference road game and is scheduled to open against a Big Ten foe three of the next four seasons as well.
• SEASON OPENER RECORD: 98-28-5 (.767)
• AT HOME: 85-14-3 (.848)
• ON THE ROAD: 9-14-2 (.400)
• AT A NEUTRAL SITE: 4-0-0 (1.000)
• BIGGEST WIN: 117-0 vs. Kearney St. (1911)
• BIGGEST LOSS: 54-0 at Minnesota (1943)
• LONGEST WINNING STREAK: 29 (1986-2014)
• LONGEST LOSING STREAK: 6 (1942-47)
Huskers Perfect All-Time in August
Saturday’s game will mark the 15th August game in the history of Nebraska football. The Huskers have never lost in the month, bringing a 14-0 record into Saturday’s season opener at Illinois, which will be only the second August road game in the history of Nebraska football.
• Nebraska is not only 14-0 all-time in the month of August, but the average score of those 14 games has been 41-14. The Huskers are 6-0 when facing a Power Five Conference opponent (at game time), with the average score of those six contests being 38-10.
• Saturday’s game is believed to be the earliest date a Big Ten Conference football game has ever been played. The Huskers and Illini are playing only the fifth conference matchup in the month of August in Big Ten history.
Big Red Offense Has Put Up Big Numbers vs. Illinois
Nebraska and Illinois are meeting for the ninth consecutive season and for the ninth time as Big Ten opponents. During the first eight meetings, the Husker offense has found success against the Illini.
• In their first 10 seasons in the Big Ten, the Huskers have amassed 600 yards of offense five times, with three of those efforts coming against Illinois (2014, 2018 and 2019).
• In Scott Frost‘s first three seasons, Nebraska has averaged 557 yards and 40 points per game against Illinois. In 2019, the Huskers totaled 674 yards of offense, the program’s highest offensive output ever in a Big Ten Conference game. NU threw for 328 yards and rushed for 346 in the 2019 meeting, which marked only the second time in program history – and the only time in a conference game – that Nebraska has totaled 300 yards passing and rushing in the same game.
• In 2018, Nebraska scored 54 points, to match the Huskers’ highest point total in a Big Ten Conference game. Nebraska accumulated 606 yards of total offense in the 2018 meeting.
• In the eight meetings between the programs as Big Ten Conference foes, Nebraska has averaged 247 rushing yards per game. Nebraska has produced seven individual 100-yard rushing performances in the eight Big Ten games with Illinois, including a pair of 200-yard efforts in back-to-back seasons by Ameer Abdullah in 2013 and 2014.
• Adrian Martinez has put up gaudy statistics against Illinois. In three career games against the Illini, Martinez has completed 49-of-72 (.680) passes for 661 yards and seven touchdowns, while rushing 33 times for 181 yards and one score. He averages over 8.0 yards per play in his career against Illinois, totaling 842 yards on 105 total offense attempts with nine total touchdowns.
• In his two starts vs. Illinois, Martinez has accounted for 791 yards of total offense (395.5 ypg). He had a career-high 446 yards of total offense in 2019, the third-highest total in Husker history and the most total yards by a Husker in a Big Ten Conference game. Martinez completed 22-of-34 passes for 328 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 118 yards on 18 carries to post the second 300-yard passing and 100-yard rushing game in program history. In 2018, Martinez completed 23-of-34 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns and rushed 13 times for 55 yards and one score.
• The offensive success against Illinois goes back even further, as Nebraska put up 111 points, 1,099 total yards and 926 rushing yards in the last two non-conference matchups between the two programs in 1985 and 1986. The Huskers had more than 450 yards rushing, 540 total yards and scored over 50 points in each of those two meetings.