LINCOLN — Nebraska I-back Ameer Abdullah used his 225-yard game against Illinois to move up to No. 9 nationally in rushing yards per game at 138.0.
Abdullah also ranks second in the Big Ten, just behind Wisconsin sophomore Melvin Gordon at 139.6. The Husker junior from Homewood, Ala., needs 23 yards to become the 28th player in NU history to reach 2,000 for his career.
Nebraska ran for 335 yards in the 39-19 win against the Illini to push its season average to 291.6 per game. That ranks No. 9 nationally and second to Wisconsin in the Big Ten.
When the Nebraska offense finally left the Husker defense in a tough spot Saturday, assistant Rick Kaczenski was pleased to see the Blackshirts respond.
Illinois cut its deficit to 23-5 with a safety just before halftime and took over at its own 47 after the free kick. NU, however, forced a three-and-out to preserve the advantage.
The Husker defense later did the same after the offense committed its only turnover in the fourth quarter.
“I liked the way we responded after a turnover or when it was time to bow up, and that’s good,” Kaczenski said. “That was something we haven’t really done a good job of over the course of the season.
“Let’s bow up. Let’s make a play. We can’t count on the offense to score 40 points. We signed on for this gig, too.”
NU defensive coordinator John Papuchis said the effort was good Saturday, but the disappointment was allowing a late 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.
“You hate to end it kind of flat like that,” he said. “But I thought our guys played really well overall.”
Blocking was Bell’s highlight
Forget the one-handed catch. Junior Kenny Bell said he was proudest of the way he and his fellow receivers blocked on the perimeter during Saturday’s win over Illinois.
Senior Quincy Enunwa cleared space downfield on several runs by Abdullah. Bell said junior Jamal Turner delivered a “huge” hit along the sideline to free Enunwa for a few extra yards on a third-down completion in the second quarter. There were plenty more examples, according to Bell.
“We’re going to turn on the film, and we’re going to be pretty happy about it,” he said. “We were running all the way across the field, driving safeties out of bounds.”
The receivers place a lot of emphasis on their ability to block, and executed well Saturday, Bell said.
“We got after it,” he said.
Evans capitalizes on blitzes
It was third-and-goal when senior Ciante Evans got the call that he’d be coming on a blitz. He knew what the outcome would be.
They’d practiced this play all week.
Sure enough, Evans had a clear path to Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, dropping him for an 11-yard loss and forcing a second-quarter field goal try.
“I knew we were going to get home on it,” Evans said.
He’d blitzed two plays earlier from his nickel back spot, picking up a tackle for loss. In the third quarter, Evans was unblocked on a third-down blitz when he hit Scheelhaase’s arm to force a wobbly throw that Jason Ankrah intercepted.
“I like it a lot — if I’m not getting picked up,” Evans said of the blitz calls, smiling.
He also had a forced fumble, a pass breakup and four tackles in Nebraska’s 39-19 win.