Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Adrian Martinez produced a career-high 445 yards of total offense


Huskers Come Back to Snap Road Skid

Champaign, Ill. - Nebraska trailed by 14 points late in the third quarter, but the Huskers overcame a season-high four turnovers and a blocked extra point to snap an eight-game road losing streak with a 42-38 win in their Big Ten Conference opener at Illinois on Saturday night.

Nebraska, which improved to 3-1 on the season and 1-0 in the Big Ten, also became just the fifth football program in history to reach 900 all-time wins.

The Huskers dominated the yardage totals and time of possession in the game, allowing Nebraska to outscore the Fighting Illini 15-3 in the final quarter. For the game, the Huskers amassed 674 yards on 98 plays while owning the time of possession 37:04-22-56. The Big Red rolled for 346 yards on the ground while averaging 5.7 yards per carry. The Blackshirts held Illinois to just 299 total yards on 68 plays, while silencing the Illini air attack to just 78 yards on 9-of-25 passing while also getting the game's only interception from sophomore safety Cam Taylor-Britt in the first half.

Sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez erupted for a career-high 445 yards of total offense, leading Nebraska's rushing attack with 118 yards on 18 carries, while throwing for 328 yards on 22-of-34 attempts. Martinez tied a career high with three touchdown passes and did not throw an interception. His overall yardage was the third-highest total in school history.

Martinez's 300-yard passing, 100-yard rushing performance was just the second in Nebraska history, joining a 323-yard passing, 112-yard rushing effort by former Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez at Oklahoma State on Oct. 23, 2010. 

In addition to the overwhelming totals from Adrian Martinez, true freshman receiver/running back Wan'Dale Robinson was electric over the final three quarters. Robinson hauled in a career-high eight receptions for 79 yards, while adding 89 rushing yards. He stepped up in place of Maurice Washington and shared second-half duties with Dedrick Mills in the backfield.

Robinson scored his first career touchdown on a 27-yard receptions in the second quarter and added a three-yard touchdown catch in the third. His one-yard touchdown run with 8:00 left was the game-winner that capped Nebraska's 14-point second-half road comeback.

Junior wide receiver JD Spielman was also huge for the Huskers on the night, bringing down seven receptions for a game-high 160 yards, while tight end Jack Stoll added 45 yards on three receptions, including a six-yard touchdown catch. Stoll also had a highlight reel one-handed grab late in third quarter to convert a critical third down that set up a game-tying score in the opening minute of the final period. 

Washington was limited in the second half, but he still piled up 89 rushing yards on just 10 carries in the first half. Mills added 45 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries for the game.

Although the offense put up gaudy numbers, four fumbles lost put the Blackshirt defense in poor positions throughout the night. Illinois converted the four Nebraska turnovers into 21 points on drives of two, 14 and 37 yards. The Blackshirts held the Illini without points after another drive started at the NU 36. 

In addition to the turnover struggles, Nebraska also had to overcome a season-high 10 penalties for 70 yards, just one week after committing just one penalty in a win over Northern Illinois.

While the turnovers and penalties put the Blackshirts in tough spots, they stepped up by forcing eight three-and-outs and a four-and-out by Illinois on its final drive, setting up the lopsided yardage totals and time of possession for the offense. While the turnovers and penalties fell in favor of the Fighting Illini, third-down conversions on both sides of the ball were critical in the Cornhusker comeback.

Martinez's play-making allowed the Huskers to convert 11-of-19 third downs on the night, while the Blackshirts held Illinois to just 1-of-12 on third down. Marquel Dismuke led the defense with seven tackles and three pass breakups, and JoJo Domann added five big tackles, including two for loss and one 10-yard sack. He also forced a fumble. Khalil Davis contributed Nebraska's other sack, while Lamar Jackson had two TFLs among his three solo tackles. He also had two big pass breakups.

Reggie Corbin, who led Illinois with 134 rushing yards on 20 carries, scored the game's first touchdown on a 66-yard burst for a touchdown on the second play from scrimmage to give the Illini a 7-0 lead just 48 seconds into the game. Nebraska was unable to answer on its opening drive despite driving inside the Illinois 30, before turning the ball over on downs.

The Blackshirts answered with their first three-and-out of the night, but the offense fumbled on the second play of its second drive giving Illinois a short field by starting at the NU 37. Five plays later, it was 14-0 Illini after Brandon Peters' 26-yard touchdown pass to Josh Imatorbhebhe with 8:12 left in the first quarter.

Martinez put the Big Red on the board with his six-yard touchdown pass to Stoll with 5:07 left in the opening quarter to cut the Illini lead to 14-7. The two teams traded punts to end the first quarter, before the Blackshirts forced another punt early in the second. Blake Hayes boomed a 59-yard punt that was downed at the NU 2, setting the Huskers up with poor field position. On the first offensive play, the Huskers fumbled again and the Illini took over at the NU 2. Illinois plowed into the end zone five seconds later to take a 21-7 lead.

The two defenses traded three-and-outs before Martinez engineered a six-play, 79-yard drive that was capped by his 27-yard touchdown pass to Robinson to cut the Illini lead to 21-14 at the half.

Nebraska opened the second half with the ball but was unable to march, and Illinois took advantage by putting together its only sustained drive of the night. The Illini's six-play, 78-yard drive was capped by Dre Brown's 36-yard touchdown run and put Illinois up 28-14 with 11:16 left in the third quarter. Martinez and the Huskers answered with a seven-play, 75-yard drive that took just 1:35 capped by a short touchdown pass to Robinson to pull the Big Red back to within 28-21.

The Blackshirts forced another three-and-out to set the offense up with a chance to tie, but on the second play of the drive another Husker fumble gave Illinois the ball at the NU 36. The Blackshirts didn't bend, forcing another three-and-out, but on the second play of Nebraska's ensuing drive, another fumble set the Illini up at the NU 14. Two plays later, Illinois was celebrating in the end zone with a 35-21 lead.

Trailing by two scores on the road with 5:40 left in the third quarter, Martinez coordinated a nine-play, 75-yard march that took 3:29 and cut the margin to 35-27. But Lane McCallum's extra-point try was blocked by Illinois leaving Nebraska down by eight. The Blackshirts came up with a quick stop, giving the ball back to Martinez and the offense late in the third quarter.

Less than one minute into the fourth quarter Martinez handed off to Mills for a two-yard touchdown run to cut the Illini lead to 35-33. Martinez then ran in a two-point conversion on his own to tie the score at 35 with 14:08 left.

Illinois answered with a 47-yard James McCourt field goal to cap a seven-play, 30-yard drive and regain the lead at 38-35. But Robinson's one-yard touchdown run that followed a Martinez 25-yard run, provided the decisive score with 8:00 left to give Nebraska the 42-38 win. 

The Blackshirts forced a three-and to give the ball back to the offense with a chance to seal its first road win since beating Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., on Oct. 28, 2017. Nebraska came within one yard of putting the game out of reach on 1st-and-Goal at the Illinois 1 with 2:22 left, but the Huskers were unable to punch the ball in the end zone. Nebraska did force Illinois to burn all three of their timeouts on defense, but on a night where nothing came easy, NU's 27-yard field goal attempt with just under two minutes left hit the left upright and bounced wide to leave the door open for Illinois.

The Illini took over at its own 20 with 2:03 left, trailing 42-38, and the Blackshirts again shut down the Illini, forcing a four-and-out, to allow the offense to run out the clock. 

The Huskers will return to Lincoln to take on No. 6 Ohio State at Memorial Stadium next Saturday. ESPN College Game Day will be on hand throughout the day, in advance of Nebraska's 6:30 p.m. kick off against the Buckeyes. The game will be televised by ABC.

Scoring Summary
Nebraska 42, Illinois 38
Memorial Stadium (Champaign, Ill.)
Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019
Attendance: 44,512

First Quarter (Illinois, 14-7)
ILL - 14:12 - Reggie Corbin 66 run (James McCourt kick) - 2 plays, 71 yards, 0:48, ILL 7-0
ILL - 8:12 - Josh Imatorbhebhe 26 pass from Brandon Peters (McCourt kick) - 5 plays, 37 yards, 1:45, ILL 14-0
NEB - 5:07 - Jack Stoll 6 pass from Adrian Martinez (McCallum kick) - 10 plays, 75 yards, 3:05, ILL 14-7

Second Quarter (Illinois, 21-14)
ILL - 13:46 - RaVon Bonner 2 run (McCourt kick) - 1 play, 2 yards, 0:05, ILL 21-7
NEB - 8:20 - Robinson 27 pass from Martinez (McCallum kick) - 6 plays, 79 yards, 2:27, ILL 21-14

Third Quarter (Illinois, 35-27)
ILL - 11:16 - Dre Brown 36 run (McCourt kick) - 6 plays, 78, 1:51, ILL 28-14
NEB - 9:41 - Robinson 3 pass from Martinez (McCallum kick) - 7 plays, 75 yards, 1:35, ILL 28-21
ILL - 5:40 - Brandon Peters 10 run (McCourt kick) - 2 plays, 14 yards, 0:30, ILL 35-21
NEB - 2:11 - Dedrick Mills 14 run (McCallum kick blocked) - 9 plays, 75 yards, 3:29, ILL 35-27

Fourth Quarter (Nebraska 42-38)
NEB - 14:29 - Mills 2 run (Martinez 2PAT run) - 6 plays, 64 yards, 1:35, 35-35
ILL - 12:08 - McCourt 47 FG - 7 plays, 30 yards, 2:14, ILL 38-35
NEB - 8:00 - Robinson 1 run (McCallum kick) - 11 plays, 75 yards, 4:08, NEB 42-38

Time of Game: 3:40