Illinois opens Big Ten Conference play Saturday night against Nebraska. The Fighting Illini posted a 3-1 record in non-conference play, suffering their only loss at Washington.
Offensively, Illinois boasts one of the nation’s top passing attacks. The Illini rank 19th nationally with an average of 321.5 passing yards per game while completing 66.2 percent of their passes. Illinois averages only 108.2 rushing yards per game, as nearly 60 percent of the Fighting Illini’s total plays have been passes.
Wes Lunt is completing 65.8 percent of his passes for 1,237 yards and 11 touchdowns. He ranks eighth nationally in passing touchdowns and ninth in passing yards per game. Geronimo Allison has caught 16 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns this fall, while six Illini have at least 10 catches.
On the ground, Josh Ferguson has gained a team-high 316 yards, while averaging 6.3 yards per rush. Ferguson is coming off a career day against Texas State last weekend, when he ran for 190 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, Illinois ranks 93rd nationally in total defense and 100th in scoring defense. Opponents have rushed for an average of 172.5 yards per game against the Illini, but are averaging just 3.5 yards per carry. Through the air, Illinois is giving up an average of 257.2 passing yards per game.
Illinois possesses one of the nation’s top return men in V’Angelo Bentley. Bentley has returned 12 kickoffs for 324 yards and four punts for 65 yards. His 389 combined return yardage ranks second nationally.
Nebraska leads the all-time series with Illinois, 8-2-1. The Huskers are hosting the Fighting Illini for the second straight season, and Nebraska owns a 6-1 advantage in Lincoln, including a 2-1 edge inside Memorial Stadium.
The teams met as conference foes for the first time last season, when the Huskers ran to a 39-19 victory. Ameer Abdullah rushed for a then-career-high 225 yards in the win, as Nebraska totaled 335 rushing yards and 521 total yards.
Illinois Head Coach Tim Beckman
Tim Beckman is in his third season at Illinois, where he owns a 9-19 record. The Fighting Illini have shown improvement each season under Beckman. Illinois was just 2-10 in Beckman’s first season in 2012, but the Illini doubled their win total with a 4-8 record in 2013. Illinois has nearly matched last year’s win total with a 3-1 record entering tonight’s game.
Beckman is in his sixth season as a collegiate head coach. He guided Toledo to a 21-16 record from 2009 to 2011. Before accepting the head coaching job at Toledo, Beckman had 21 years of experience as an assistant coach. He served as the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State (2007-08), the cornerbacks coach at Ohio State (2005-06), the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach at Bowling Green (1998-2004), the defensive coordinator at Elon (1996-97), the secondary coach and recruiting coordinator at Western Carolina (1990-95) and as a graduate assistant at Auburn (1988-89).
A graduate of the University of Findlay, Beckman is 0-1 against Nebraska as a head coach, but he was on the Oklahoma State staff that handed the Huskers a 45-14 homecoming loss in 2007.