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Illinois defeated Nebraska 26-9 for its 6th straight victory

LINCOLN, Neb. — Illinois’ breakout season is getting better.

The Illini’s 26-9 win over Nebraska on Saturday wasn’t flashy, just hard work. Chase Brown and the nation’s top defense did what they’ve done all year, and now No. 17 Illinois has a six-game winning streak for the first time since 2011.

“Our guys are locked in at the moment,” second-year coach Brett Bielema said. “When you get better and better, everybody wants to talk about where you’re going to end up. We need to focus on the journey and getting to where we are today has probably been one of the most enjoyable journeys I’ve ever been on in my life.”

Brown rushed for 149 yards and scored on back-to-back second-quarter runs to help the Big Ten West-leading Illini (7-1, 4-1) beat the Cornhuskers for the third straight year and secure their first regular-season win since 2007 year.

“I tell these guys all the time that I’ve been around some championship teams and this team is the same caliber, if not better,” Bielema said. “We’re an exceptional defense and we have playmakers on literally both sides of the ball and in the kicking game.”

Nebraska (3-5, 2-3) had four turnovers and lost its 20th straight against a top-25 opponent.

The Huskers lost quarterback Casey Thompson to a right hand injury in the second quarter. Interim coach Mickey Joseph said Thompson took an elbow that left his fingers numb. Logan Smothers finished the second quarter and Chubba Purdy played the entire second half.

Illinois’ Tommy DeVito was 20 of 22 for 179 yards and two touchdowns. His completion rate of 91% was a Memorial Stadium record for a visiting defender with at least 20 attempts.

The Illini held Nebraska to 29 yards on 20 plays in the second half and 248 for the game, the Huskers’ fewest since they finished with the same total against Michigan State in 2018. Trey Palmer, coming off a school-record 237-yard receiving performance against Purdue, caught one pass for 1 yard.

“Our guys took some of their best players,” Bielema said, “and obviously when their quarterback came out, that made a big difference.”

Brown, the national rushing leader, extended his school record streak of games with at least 100 yards to nine. He scored on a 1-yard run and a 12-yard reception in the second quarter to give Illinois a 20-9 halftime lead.

His short touchdown came two plays after his twin brother, Sidney Brown, intercepted a dropped Thompson pass and returned it 37 yards to the Nebraska 11.

The Huskers then went three-and-out, and DeVito capped an 11-play, 72-yard drive with a touchdown pass to Chase Brown with 23 seconds left in the half.

Brown also made a key block up the middle of the field to give Isaiah Williams a clear path to the end zone on a 46-yard catch-and-run on Illinois’ first possession.

Illinois wide receiver Isaiah Williams (1) celebrates with quarterback Tommy DeVito after scoring a 46-yard touchdown against Nebraska in the first quarter on Saturday in Lincoln, Neb.

An unforced error by Williams in the second half gave Nebraska a chance to cut into the lead. Williams caught a pass in the open field and, untouched, dropped the ball at his own 23 for the Illini’s first loss in five games.

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The Huskers gave the ball away immediately when Sydney Brown made his second pass on Purdy’s reckless throw up the middle of the field, and they never got past their own 26 on their final four possessions.

“We came out with a great game plan, but we didn’t execute it,” tight end Travis Wakolek said, “so I give all the credit to the Illinois defense.” Great team. Tough football team.”

Illinois: The Illini beat an opponent in the West Division for the fifth time in a row. Brown, who came in with a national record 27.4 carries per game, rushed 32 times and the Illini had a 16-minute advantage in time of possession.

Nebraska: That all changed for the Huskers when Thompson exited in the second quarter. The Huskers gained just 34 yards the rest of the game.

The Illini will be in line for a promotion after the three teams ahead of them in the top 25 lose. They haven’t been in the top 15 since 2007.

Illinois: against Michigan State on Saturday.

Nebraska: against Minnesota on Saturday.


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