Big Ten

Nebraska carves up Illini as Lovie Smith's young team suffers second straight blowout loss

Two weeks ago, Nebraska lost in spectacularly ugly fashion to Northern Illinois. But against another Land of Lincoln team Friday night, things weren't nearly as bad.

Nebraska's offense, which hasn't had the easiest go of things through the first four weeks of this season, carved up the Illinois defense, sending Lovie Smith's young team to its second straight blowout loss, a 28-6 final down in Champaign in the Big Ten's first-ever conference game played on a Friday night.

Tanner Lee, who threw two pick sixes in that loss to Northern Illinois, looked like a totally different quarterback against the Illini defense, completing 17 of his 24 passes for 246 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions, a vast departure from the seven touchdowns and nine interceptions he entered Friday's game with. The Huskers scored on all three of their possessions in the first half and added another touchdown in the fourth quarter. Nebraska finished with 411 total yards of offense against Illinois' struggling defense, which has allowed 75 points and 1,091 yards combined in back-to-back losses to South Florida and Nebraska.

Meanwhile, though Illinois quarterback Chayce Crouch had some early success running the ball, the Illini struggled almost as bad on the offensive side, failing to reach the end zone. Illinois had two drives that reached inside the Nebraska 10-yard line but settled for field goals on both. Even after the Illini defense forced a Huskers fumble to give their offense the ball inside the 35-yard line, the Illini offense was pushed backward thanks to a pair of sacks of Crouch and had to punt, an unfortunately accurate snapshot of the team's offensive performance Friday night.

Shockingly, Illinois' best offensive player, wide receiver Mike Dudek, was barely targeted had just two catches for 37 yards. He was, however, the team's leading receiver Friday.

The Illini entered Friday's game last in the Big Ten in scoring offense. That ranking is unlikely to improve after Friday's meager six-point output that dropped their scoring average to 18.3 points per game.

So after winning its first two games against Ball State and Western Kentucky, Illinois has dropped two straight games to South Florida and Nebraska to even its record at 2-2.

Games like these show just how far Smith has to take the Illini before they're a more respectable program in a conference full of football giants. The program's youth remained on full display Friday, with young players making the mistakes that young players make and the team as a whole going through growing pains.

It's obviously not what fans want to see, hoping for instant gratification. But look at the makeup of Smith's roster: 54 freshmen and 22 sophomores compared to 16 juniors and nine seniors. That's amazing.

Until those guys grow up, these kind of results figure to remain common in Champaign.