LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska’s marching band spelled out “Fear Ameer” at midfield to highlight its halftime show.
That warning came a little late for Illinois on Saturday night.
By then, Ameer Abdullah already had run for 196 of his 208 yards in the 21st-ranked Cornhuskers’ 45-14 victory.
“I like everything I see from Ameer. He’s a special player,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “He got hit in the knee and had a little bruise. We felt the game was in hand, we have a lot of good running backs, so we got him out in the third quarter and thought that was the right thing to do.”
No problem. Imani Cross added a career-high 109 yards and a TD to help the Cornhuskers (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) to their best start since 2010 heading into next week’s game at No. 9 Michigan State.
Wearing all-red alternate uniforms on homecoming, the Huskers rushed for 458 of their 624 total yards. The Huskers had 190 yards on the ground in the first quarter alone.
“Some teams are happy to do that in a game,” Pelini said. “It changes a game, it wears on people. There’s nothing more demoralizing than when you can’t stop the run. I thought that really set the tone.”
Illinois (3-2, 0-1) started Reilly O’Toole at quarterback in place of Wes Lunt, who was held out because he still was feeling the effects of a leg injury from last week’s game against Texas State. The Big Ten’s second-leading passer went through pregame warmups and was available if needed.
O’Toole was 17 for 38 for 261 yards and two touchdowns and was intercepted three times, twice by Daniel Davie.
The way Nebraska gashed the Illini, a different starter at quarterback likely wouldn’t have made a difference.
“The game comes down to not stopping the run and not having enough consistency on the offensive side of the ball,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said.
It was Abdullah’s third 200-yard rushing game of the season and fourth of his career, second-most in program history behind 1983 Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier’s seven.
“The way we’re playing, we’re running the ball, the offense is running fast and we’re enjoying ourselves,” quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. said. “I know Ameer was enjoying himself.”
Abdullah went over 100 yards nine minutes into the game and scored the Huskers’ first three touchdowns on runs of 12, 8 and 2 yards. Abdullah broke four runs of 20 yards or longer, had three others longer than 10 and left after his 22nd carry after he went over 200 for the second straight year against the Illini.
“We knew from coming into this week that they wanted to run the ball. Outside zone, inside zone, they wanted to run the ball,” linebacker T.J. Neal Jr. said. “They’re a running team. And they had an aggressive offensive line that made it hard to get to the running back.”
Armstrong was 10 of 21 for 166 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. He attempted only three passes through the first quarter and a half, each one incomplete. On the fourth, he hit Kenny Bell in stride on a fly pattern for a 63-yard touchdown that made it 28-7.
Illinois turned a couple big plays into first-half touchdowns. Josh Ferguson left safety Corey Cooper on his heels with a slick move on a 41-yard run that marked the fourth time in five games that Nebraska has allowed a touchdown on its first defensive series. Geronimo Allison used his 5-inch height advantage to grab a deep ball over cornerback Josh Mitchell, then turned and ran the rest of the way for a 58-yard TD.
Those two drives accounted for 145 yards. The Illini totaled 161 yards on their other 11 possessions against Nebraska’s No. 1 defense.
Illinois’ offensive line had more than it could handle dealing with defensive end Randy Gregory, who had 2 1/2 sacks and three quarterback hurries — not to mention a bone-jarring block on Malik Turner to help facilitate Nate Gerry’s 53-yard interception return that set up a short scoring drive.
The Illini have lost 16 of 17 Big Ten games in three seasons under Beckman and eight in a row against Top 25 opponents since 2011.
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