Huskers had their struggles, but pull within one score of Illinois at halftime

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Nebraska is trying to salvage a nightmare start on the road. The Huskers trail double-digit underdog Illinois 21-14.

Adrian Martinez is 11 for 21 for 167 yards with two touchdown passes. Maurice Washington has 89 rushing yards on 10 carries, but was taken to the locker room early. He’d been in and out of the game dealing with a leg injury. JD Spielman caught four passes for 95 yards.

The Husker offense stalled for most of the first quarter, which led to a 21-7 deficit.

The Illini have scored twice after Nebraska turnovers. Running back Reggie Corbin has 91 yards on 10 carries. He got the party started early with a 66-yard touchdown run on the second play of the game. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander dialed up a blitz, and it backfired, and led to a 7-0 hole early.

A 41-yard pass from Martinez to Spielman on third down jump-started the first NU drive. But on fourth-and-11 from the Illinois 29, Scott Frost elected to go for it instead of try out one of his three inexperienced kickers in a windy Memorial Stadium. Martinez couldn’t find an open receiver and ran out of bounds short of the line to gain.

On NU’s next possession, a sloppy exchange between Martinez and Washington turned into a fumble and gave Illinois the ball back at their own 33-yard line. Brandon Peters hit Josh Imatorbhebhe on a go-route from 26 yards, and Illinois took a 14-0 lead with 8:12 left.

Nebraska responded, this time after Frost elected to go for it from the Illini 8. Dedrick Mills got the first down, and Martinez threw an easy pass to tight end Jack Stoll two plays later from 6 yards out to cut the lead down to seven with five minutes left.

Both offenses struggled to move the ball with Corbin and Washington on respective sidelines.

A perfect Illini punt placed the ball at Nebraska’s 1-yard-line at the beginning of the second quarter. Mills took the handoff, then fumbled, which was recovered by Illinois at the 2-yard-line. RaVon Bonner punched it in on the next play for a 21-7 lead.

Nebraska’s offense countered with a three-and-out.

Cam Taylor-Britt then bailed NU out on with a pick.

The offense finally woke up after that. Martinez started it off with a 26-yard pass to Spielman. Washington took a direct snap 25 yards. Then Martinez threw a simple pass to Wan’Dale Robinson on third-and-6. The true freshman shook a defensive back and scored from 27 yards for a 21-14 lead with 8:20 left.

Nebraska got the ball back with 6:26 and crossed the 50. Mills got NU down to the 27, but a holding on Brenden Jaimes negated the play. Kanawai Noa then dropped a beautiful pass from Martinez, which would’ve put NU near the goal line. NU was forced to punt with 1:16 left, and no points.

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