GAMEDAY College Football

Illinois 30, Nebraska 22

By TERRY TOWERY
Associated Press

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Under a new coach, with fans packed into the stands for the first time since 2019 and its backup quarterback at the helm, Illinois beat Nebraska 30-22 to kick off the 2021 college football season.

The Big Ten conference win didn't come without a price for the Illini.

Illinois starting quarterback Brandon Peters left the game holding his left (non-throwing) shoulder after being sacked hard near the end of the first quarter. He was 3 of 4 passing for 35 yards. He did not return and was replaced by Artur Sitkowski, a sophomore transfer from Rutgers.

Peters' status wasn't clear following Saturday's game.

Sitkowski engineered several long scoring drives using a balanced attack under first-year coach Bret Bielema.

Sitkowski was 12 of 15 passing for 124 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

The Illini rushing attack was led by Mike Epstein, who rushed for 75 yards on 16 carries, including a 45-yard run in the first quarter.

Huskers quarterback Adrian Martinez was impressive, racking up 232 passing yards on 16 completions. He had one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown. Martinez was Nebraska's leading rusher, with 111 yards on 17 carries with one touchdown.

Gabe Ervin Jr. carried the ball 12 times for 19 yards and Markese Stepp had three carries for 10 yards and a touchdown for the Huskers.

Illinois scored on a defensive gem late in the first half when Keith Randolph Jr. sacked Martinez and knocked the ball loose near midfield. Calvin Hart Jr. scooped it up and scampered 41 yards for an Illini touchdown with less than a minute in the half.

Hart Jr. was injured late in the game and was helped off the field with what appeared to be a left leg injury.

Illinois led 16-9 at the break.

Illinois athletics press release


Scoring Summary
First Quarter NebIll
Ill SF 4:07 Team safety 0 2
Second Quarter NebIll
Neb TD 14:25 Markese Stepp 2 yard TD run (Connor Culp Kick Failed) 6 2
Neb FG 9:15 Connor Culp 27 yard field goal 9 2
Ill TD 2:51 Mike Epstein 1 yard TD run (James McCourt Extra Point) 9 9
Ill TD 0:37 Calvin Hart Jr. 42 yard fumble return for TD (James McCourt Extra Point) 9 16
Third Quarter NebIll
Ill TD 6:56 Luke Ford 2 yard TD pass from Artur Sitkowski (James McCourt Extra Point) 9 23
Ill TD 4:01 Isaiah Williams 1 yard TD pass from Artur Sitkowski (James McCourt Extra Point) 9 30
Neb TD 3:48 Adrian Martinez 75 yard TD run (Connor Culp Extra Point) 16 30
Fourth Quarter NebIll
Neb TD 2:41 Oliver Martin 4 yard TD pass from Adrian Martinez (Connor Culp Kick Failed) 22 30
Team Stats
  Nebraska Illinois
First downs 19 18
  Rushing 8 9
  Passing 10 8
  Penalty 1 1
3rd Down Efficiency 5-14, 36% 6-13, 46%
4th down efficiency 1-2, 50% 0-0, -%
Rushes-Yards 39-160 48-167
Passing Yards 232 159
Return Yards 31 16
Completions-Attempts-Int 16-32-0 15-19-0
Sacks-Yards Lost 5-35 3-17
Punts 5 6
Fumbles Lost 2-1 1-1
Penalties - Yards 5-67 3-40
Nebraska Passing
Player Cmp Att Yds TDs Int
A. Martinez 16 32 232 1 0
Illinois Passing
Player Cmp Att Yds TDs Int
A. Sitkowski 12 15 124 2 0
B. Peters 3 4 35 0 0
Nebraska Rushing
Player Carries Yds Avg TDs
A. Martinez 17 111 6.5 1
G. Ervin Jr. 12 33 2.8 0
R. Johnson 4 11 2.8 0
M. Stepp 3 10 3.3 1
S. Toure 2 9 4.5 0
Illinois Rushing
Player Carries Yds Avg TDs
M. Epstein 16 75 4.7 1
R. Love III 12 45 3.8 0
C. Brown 5 24 4.8 0
J. Norwood 3 16 5.3 0
C. Hayden 4 12 3.0 0
I. Williams 2 8 4.0 0
A. Sitkowski 3 4 1.3 0
B. Peters 2 -15 -7.5 0
Nebraska Receiving
Player Rec Yds Avg TDs
O. Martin 6 103 17.2 1
S. Toure 3 37 12.3 0
M. Stepp 1 30 30.0 0
O. Manning 2 26 13.0 0
A. Allen 2 23 11.5 0
W. Liewer 2 13 6.5 0
Illinois Receiving
Player Rec Yds Avg TDs
D. Spann 1 45 45.0 0
I. Williams 6 41 6.8 1
L. Ford 3 30 10.0 1
D. Navarro III 1 21 21.0 0
C. Washington 2 13 6.5 0
J. Norwood 1 7 7.0 0
M. Epstein 1 2 2.0 0
Nebraska Interceptions
Player Int Yards
Illinois Interceptions
Player Int Yards
Nebraska Punting
Player Punts Yards Avg
D. Cerni 5 172 34.4
Illinois Punting
Player Punts Yards Avg
B. Hayes 6 272 45.3
Nebraska Punt Returns
Player Ret Yards Average
C. Taylor-Britt 2 1 0.5
Illinois Punt Returns
Player Ret Yards Average
D. Navarro III 1 7 7.0
Nebraska Kick Returns
Player Ret Yards Average
R. Johnson 1 13 13.0
Z. Betts 1 17 17.0
Illinois Kick Returns
Player Ret Yards Average
D. Navarro III 1 9 9.0
Nebraska Missed FG
Player Length
Illinois Missed FG
Player Length
J. McCourt 55




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