Oct 15, 2022; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Illinois Fighting Illini running back Chase Brown (2) scores a touchdown during the first half against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

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Red-hot No. 17 Illinois visits Nebraska in key Big Ten matchup

No. 17 Illinois will try to keep its unexpected spot atop the West Division standings when it visits Nebraska on Saturday for a Big Ten Conference game in Lincoln.

The Fighting Illini (6-1, 3-1) have won five straight, their longest streak since posting seven consecutive victories in 2010-11, which also was the last time they were ranked this high. They come off a bye holding a half-game lead in the West over Purdue, while Nebraska (3-4, 2-2) is one game behind the leader.

Illinois’ last game was a 26-14 home win Oct. 15 over Minnesota, in which it held its opponent to 180 yards. The Illini lead the country in scoring defense (8.9) and total defense (221.1) and rank second in rushing defense (77.9) and passing defense (143.3). Their 12 interceptions are tied for second-most in the country.

“They’ve got a really good scheme, they’re well coached and they stick to their guns,” Nebraska interim coach Mickey Joseph said. “They don’t do much, but what they do they do very well.”

Nebraska is 2-2 since Joseph was elevated to replace Scott Frost after three games, and during his tenure the Cornhuskers won their first road game in almost two years and picked up consecutive league wins for the first time since 2018.

“He’s definitely had a huge impact on kind of just what’s happened since that transition,” Illinois coach Bret Bielema said of Joseph. “I noticed the difference on offense, defense and really, even on special teams, the way they’re playing the game.”

The ‘Huskers also are coming off a bye, having lost 43-37 at Purdue before the off week. Receiver Trey Palmer, a transfer from LSU, had seven catches for a school-record 237 yards with two touchdowns.

For the season, Palmer has 781 receiving yards, only 223 behind the single-season school record with at least five games to go. But he’ll likely be matched up against Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon, who on Monday was named one of 12 semifinalists for the Thorpe Award given to college football’s top defensive back.

“Pretty big accomplishment for a guy that I think preseason probably didn’t have a lot of preseason hype,” Bielema said of Witherspoon, a junior who is second in FBS with 11 passes defended.

Quarterback play will be a big factor in this matchup. While Illinois is tops in the conference in defending the pass, Nebraska is last, meaning Illini senior Tommy DeVito could be in for another big game.

The Syracuse transfer was 25 of 32 for 252 yards and a TD against Minnesota and for the season is completing 70.4 percent of his passes. Nebraska junior Casey Thompson is at 64.1 percent, and his eight interceptions are tied for second-most in the conference, but he threw for 354 yards at Purdue and has topped the 300-yard mark three times in 2022.

The game also will feature the nation’s leading rusher in Illinois junior Chase Brown, who has run for 1,059 yards.

Illinois has won the last two meetings against Nebraska, including a 30-22 home victory to open the 2021 season. The Cornhuskers are 6-3 in the series since joining the Big Ten.

–Field Level Media

Field Level Media
Sport Writer & Editor
FLM has a North American focus while tying into regional and hyper-local resources – providing the ability to distribute compelling content through the writing of professional journalists. As the U.S. sports content provider to dozens of digital and print media publishers through strategic partnerships with the likes of Reuters and Nielsen Sports, FLM covers the nuts and bolts with a breaking news desk and game event coverage.

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