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Illinois opens season with 30-22 win over Nebraska

Bret Bielema picks up a ‘W’ in his debut in Champaign as the Illini cover as seven-point dogs.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 28 Nebraska at Illinois Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Whether it was a safety, a fumble return, or a missed extra point, the Illinois Fighting Illini utilized a little bit of everything to their advantage to defeat the Nebraska Cornhuskers 30-22 in Saturday’s season opener.

Trading punts to start the game, Illinois (1-0, 1-0 Big Ten) got on the board first when Nebraska (0-1, 0-1 Big Ten) returner Cam Taylor-Britt fielded a punt returner, slipped in the endzone, and tossed the ball out of bounds for a safety that put the Illini up 2-0. With the game tied at nine late in the first half, defensive lineman Keith Randolph Jr. strip sacked Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez on third down and allowed for Calvin Hart Jr. to pick the ball up and return it 41 yards for the touchdown to put U of I up 16-9 heading into halftime.

The Illini executed back-to-back touchdown drives to start the second half to push their lead up to 21. The Cornhuskers responded late in the third when Martinez broke off a 75-yard touchdown scamper and threatened to get back into the contest when crossing into Illini territory early in the fourth. However, yet another sack of the Nebraska QB derailed the drive and forced them to punt once again.

Starting at their own nine with 9:15 remaining, Nebraska inched down the field on an excruciatingly long 19-play, 91-yard drive that ended when Martinez hit Oliver Martin on fourth-and-goal for a four-yard touchdown to pull them within one score. Unfortunately for them, kicker Conner Culp missed yet another extra point, leaving the game at 30-22 in Illinois’ favor. The Huskers final shot to tie the game with less than a minute left came up short.

The Illini successfully covered as a seven-point underdog at DraftKings Sportsbook, a popular bet that received 58% of the handle from the public. Nebraska’s missed extra point barely clinched the under on the 52.5 total for the game, which received 66% of the bets from the public.

This marks Win No. 1 in the Bret Bielema era in Champaign while the heat has certainly been cranked up a notch for Scott Frost in Lincoln.