Scott Frost's prove-it season at Nebraska started with a dud.
The Cornhuskers lost 30-22 at Illinois to open the 2021 season in a game that the Illini convincingly won with a backup quarterback and myriad costly mistakes from Nebraska.
The first big mistake came in the first quarter, when Cam Taylor-Britt gifted Illinois two points when he fielded a punt near his own end zone. And then Adrian Martinez gave Illinois a touchdown when he lost the 16th fumble of his career with less than a minute to go before halftime. The fumble was returned for a TD by Calvin Hart and put Illinois up 16-9 at halftime.
Illinois pushed its lead to 30-9 in the third quarter before Nebraska tried to make a late push. But it came too late. Nebraska didn't score its final touchdown until there was 2:41 left — the drive included a snap way over Martinez's head and a nearly disastrous QB sneak on first down when Nebraska didn't realize it had gotten a first down. And that TD wasn't even capped with an extra point. Connor Culp missed his second PAT of the game after the score.
The Huskers got the ball back with 54 seconds and no timeouts for a potential game-tying TD but that drive didn't even cross midfield.
Nebraska is 12-21 under Frost
Nebraska has played 33 games in Frost's tenure with the team. It's lost 21 of them with him as head coach. For perspective, Nebraska lost just 27 games in seven full seasons under Bo Pelini, a man whose teams won at least nine games in every season.
Huskers fans would sure love a nine-win season sometime soon. And it's hard to see when the program will ever get there under Frost. And that's a scary proposition. If Nebraska can't get back to excellence with a coach who used to play QB at the school and who previously led a team to an undefeated season, when can it get back to where it once was?
That's a question without an answer. Thanks to an ill-advised contract extension, Frost has one of the biggest buyouts in college football at $20 million. Oh, there's also an investigation into alleged NCAA violations going on at Nebraska too. It could be a very long fall of 2021 in Lincoln.
Illinois shows fight
Bret Bielema has to be thrilled with the way his team played in his first game as a college football coach since he was fired at Arkansas. The Illinois offense ran the ball efficiently and had a borderline erotic start to start the second half with an eight-minute, 75-yard TD drive.
The injuries stunk, however. QB Brandon Peters was forced to leave the game in the first half after he landed hard on his left shoulder. He was back on the sideline in the second half with his left arm in a sling. Hart gingerly limped off the field in the second half and was hardly putting any weight on his left leg. The sophomore safety was fantastic before he was injured.
Peters was replaced by Rutgers transfer Art Sitkowski and Sitkowski completed 12-of-15 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns. It wasn't the gaudiest stat line, but with a Nebraska team unable to play a clean game, mistake-free football was exactly what Illinois needed.