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Sjuts’ Slant: Nebraska vs. Illinois

1011 NOW Sports Director Kevin Sjuts' commentary on Nebraska football.
1011 NOW Sports Director Kevin Sjuts' commentary on Nebraska football.(KOLN-TV)
Published: Nov. 21, 2020 at 7:13 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - 1011 NOW Sports Director Kevin Sjuts shares his thoughts on the Huskers’ 41-23 loss to Illinois:

SJUTS’ SLANT

-Worst loss of the Scott Frost era. No doubt about it. The Huskers looked sluggish, fragile, and lacked competitive spirit.

-What a difference a week makes. Last Saturday, there were smiles, dancing, and joking around on Nebraska’s sideline. No zest or energy was to be seen or felt during the Illinois game.

-Thoughts and prayers for Collin Miller. It was a sobering scene seeing Nebraska’s captain get carted off the field on a stretcher. You can tell how well-liked and respected Miller is by his teammates’ reaction while he laid on the turf. Players were on a knee; many fellow Blackshirts went near Miller to check on him immediately.

-Take your pick: 5 turnovers, 7 penalties, opponent 65% on 3rd down. Three important stats that played a huge role in the outcome. The most glaring, in my opinion, is 5 turnovers. Not just the fact that the Huskers gave the ball away 5 times, but that the turnover margin was -5.

-Pretty sweet alternate uniforms. Maybe the best ones they’ve worn, and appropriate given that players received Blackshirts at practice this week. But worth noting when Nebraska’s alternate uniforms are black the Huskers are 0-4.

-Illinois had Nebraska scouted extremely well. The fake punt is only one example. There were quarterback draws that were wide open for the Fighting Illini, and Lovie Smith has his defense ready for the Huskers’ QB run game.

-Speaking of QB runs, Luke McCaffrey carried the ball 26 times against Illinois. That’s way too high for Scott Frost’s offense. Yes, there are designed quarterback runs. And there are times McCaffrey was forced to scramble. But the playmakers around McCaffrey need to be more involved.

-Omar Manning was on the sidelines this week. The JUCO receiver was seen encouraging his teammates and trying to get them hyped up while the game was slipping away.

-No sugarcoating this: Nebraska got whooped up front.

-Referee John O’Neill said this about Nebraska’s first play from scrimmage: “The covering official ruled it a backward pass. The play was reviewable, but we didn’t have a camera with a shot right down the line of scrimmage. The replay official let it stand because there would have been no indisputable evidence.” So the lack of a proper camera angle influenced how the officials handled the situation? Typically the television broadcast has a camera at the line of scrimmage close to field level. McCaffrey’s pass was near the line of scrimmage and thrown in the direction toward the camera. That call did not ultimately decide the game (far from it). But it did seem to instantly affect the Huskers’ young and easily-influenced team.

-If football doesn’t work out for Logan Smothers, perhaps he can pursue a gymnastics career. Smothers did a cartwheel in the end zone during pregame warm-ups.

-The snaps have to improve. Not only do they pull the quarterback’s eyes off his keys, it messes up the timing of the play.

-On Illinois’ fake punt: I’m not sure it was a designed fake punt. Seemed more like an option. And when the punter decided to run, it was a not confident, twisting run that reminded me of my son playing a video game. It was like he was pressing R1 and L1 on the Playstation remote to see what it’d make the runner do.

-I was surprised it took until the final minutes for Adrian Martinez to enter the game. Given Luke McCaffrey’s struggles (3 interceptions and a fumble), I expected to see Martinez lead the offense to start the third quarter.

-”We’ll get this fixed.” Scott Frost has said this before. With a 10-18 record at Nebraska, Frost’s words are starting to ring hollow for some fans.

-Saturday’s overcast skies matched the performance of the team.

-For the “Nebraska fought hard to bring football back to watch this low-quality product” crowd: Nebraska wanted to bring football back because its players love the game and they thought it could be done safely. And Frost, along with the University’s administration, wanted to stand up for what they believed in. Those arguments have nothing to do with Nebraska’s talent level of championship chances. Those hip-shooting comments from fans are lazy.

-Short week. Iowa. Black Friday. A win in Iowa wouldn’t erase the Illinois loss. But it could take away the sting. Nebraska must play much, much, much, much, much, much, much better against the Hawkeyes.

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