LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Brandon Peters threw for one touchdown and ran for another in his first game in nearly a month, Illinois had two rushers go over 100 yards, and the Illini beat turnover-plagued Nebraska 41-23 on Saturday for their second straight win.
The Cornhuskers won at Illinois last year despite committing four turnovers. They couldn’t survive five, though, as the Illini won in Lincoln for the first time since 1924.
Luke McCaffrey, making his second start at quarterback, committed the first of his four turnovers on the first play from scrimmage. Wan’Dale Robinson coughed up the ball as the Huskers (1-3, 1-3 Big Ten) tried to come back in the second half.
Illinois (2-3, 2-3) led 28-10 after two quarters, their most first-half points against a conference opponent in 10 years, and was up 41-17 early in the fourth quarter. The Illini won their second road game in as many weeks.
Nebraska linebacker Collin Miller was taken off the field on a stretcher with about 12 minutes to play. He appeared to have been hurt while tackling Mike Epstein.
Medical personnel tended to Miller for several minutes near the south end zone as players from both teams took a knee. He was strapped to a backboard and taken out of the stadium. There was no immediate announcement on the nature of his injury.
Peters, who had been out since Oct. 24 because of a COVID-19 outbreak on the team, showed no rust in leading a balanced Illini offense that had 285 yards rushing and 205 passing.
Nebraska entered the game as a 16-point favorite and ran into trouble immediately.
McCaffrey ran 4 yards on the first snap and flung the ball into the turf — what was ruled a lateral instead of an illegal forward pass — and Illini linebacker Jake Hansen recovered at the 21.
Chase Brown, who ran for 110 yards on 26 carries, scored the first of his two touchdowns three plays later.
Tarique Barnes intercepted a scrambling McCaffrey’s desperation throw along the sideline on a fourth-and-4 play. Peters threw to Josh Imatorbhebhe for a 28-yard touchdown for a 21-7 lead.
Nebraska had a chance to pull within a touchdown when it drove to the 1. But a holding call on center Cam Jurgens nullified Marvin Scott III’s touchdown, and the Huskers had to settle for Connor Culp’s 30-yard field goal.
Illinois added to the lead on Epstein’s 1-yard run two plays after he broke a 58-yarder down the sideline. Epstein finished with 113 yards on 13 carries.
McCaffrey gave way to Adrian Martinez late in the fourth quarter after throwing his third interception.
Illinois: Coach Lovie Smith’s defense thrives on turnovers, and the Illini played “Lovie Ball” to the hilt with five takeaways. That gives them 13 for the season. The defense did take a hit. Promising linebacker Tarique Barnes went out in the second quarter with what appeared to be a left leg injury and lineman Jer’Zhan Newton went out in the third with an undisclosed injury.
Nebraska: The Huskers flopped a week after beating Penn State for their first win. There are some serious growing pains happening under third-year coach Scott Frost.
Illinois hosts No. 3 Ohio State on Nov. 28. The Illini have lost nine straight in the series.