The return of Bret Bielema to the Big Ten has been one that has fascinated this particular Big Ten observer all offseason. The former Wisconsin head coach returned to the conference this year as the head coach of the Illinois Fighting Illini to give us all a glimpse at whether or not Bielema could still manufacture wins in the Big Ten the way he once did with the Badgers. Well, it’s only been one game, but he did just that on Saturday.
And not to say “I told you so,” but I did feel validated in my pregame predictions in this one. Perhaps it was too easy to go against Nebraska in this situation, but sometimes easy money is smart money too. (Just please pay no attention to my UConn prediction).
Illinois dropped Nebraska in a Week 0 Big Ten opener 30-22. The Illini rattled off 28 consecutive points to turn a 9-2 deficit into a decisive 30-9 advantage between the second and third quarters, although the Huskers managed to make things interesting late in the fourth quarter. The turning point of the game may have been a 41-yard fumble return fr a touchdown by Illinois’ Calvin Hart Jr. The defensive score came in the final minute of the first half to break a 9-9 tie.
The Illini defense had a good showing with five sacks of Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez, who completed just 16 of his 32 pass attempts. Illinois also got a solid effort from backup quarterback Artur Sitkowski (a transfer from Rutgers) following a shoulder injury to starter Brandon Peters (a transfer from Michigan). Sitkowski completed 12 of 15 attempts with two touchdowns.