LINCOLN, Neb. – For most teams that come into Memorial Stadium, beating Nebraska doesn't mean as much as it used to considering the Cornhuskers' fall from the upper echelon of college football the last two decades.
You couldn't tell that to Illinois coach Lovie Smith after his team left Lincoln with a 41-23 win Saturday.
“You can imagine what our locker room was like,” Smith said. “I'm told we haven't won in Lincoln since 1924 when Red Grange played. Whenever something like that happens, it's a big deal.”
Brandon Peters threw for one touchdown and ran for another in his first game in nearly a month, Illinois had two rushers go over 100 yards, and the Illini beat the turnover-plagued Huskers for their second straight win.
The Cornhuskers won at Illinois last year despite committing four turnovers. They couldn't survive five, though.
“I didn't see this coming,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said. “I was embarrassed by our level of execution in all three phases. I didn't think we had the juice we had last week. It's almost like our team thought you win one game, you're good. That's not how it works.”
Luke McCaffrey, making his second start at quarterback, committed the first of his four turnovers on the first play from scrimmage. Wan'Dale Robinson fumbled as the Huskers (1-3, 1-3 Big Ten) tried to come back in the second half.
Illinois (2-3, 2-3) led 28-10 after two quarters, their most first-half points against a conference opponent in 10 years, and won its second road game in as many weeks.
“Winning is always a great feeling,” Peters said. “Today I think the turning point was getting that turnover real early in the game. That gave us a lot of momentum moving forward, and from that point we didn't stop.”
Peters, who had been out since Oct. 24 because of a COVID-19 outbreak on the team, showed no rust in leading a balanced Illini offense that had 285 yards rushing and 205 passing.
Nebraska entered the game as a 16-point favorite and ran into trouble immediately.
McCaffrey ran 4 yards on the first snap and flung the ball into the turf – what was ruled a lateral instead of an illegal forward pass – and Illini linebacker Jake Hansen recovered at the 21.
Chase Brown, who ran for 110 yards on 26 carries, scored the first of his two touchdowns three plays later.
Peters threw to Josh Imatorbhebhe for a 28-yard touchdown for a 21-7 lead after Tarique Barnes intercepted a scrambling McCaffrey's desperation throw along the sideline.
Illinois added to the lead on Mike Epstein's 1-yard run two plays after he broke a 58-yarder down the sideline. Epstein finished with 113 yards on 13 carries.
McCaffrey ran 26 times for 122 yards, both career highs, and threw for two touchdowns.
IOWA 41, PENN STATE 21: In State College, Pennsylvania, Spencer Petras completed 18 of 28 passes for 186 yards and ran for a touchdown to lead the Hawkeyes (3-2, 3-2 Big Ten).
Mekhi Sargent and Tyler Goodson combined for 179 rushing yards and three touchdown for Iowa, which won its third straight and snapped six-game losing streak to Penn State (0-5, 0-5).