Much like his own team a few weeks ago, Nebraska coach Scott Frost sees in Illinois a team riding high after blowing out Minnesota.
The Illini rolled up nearly 650 yards of offense in their 55-31 win over the Golden Gophers, and come to Lincoln with a 4-5 record and a chance to move one win closer to bowl eligibility.
"They’re playing for a lot. Being a coach and watching what they accomplished last week, that’s going to give them a boost and some enthusiasm," Frost said. "So they’re going to come in here expecting to win, and playing to win this game, and we’ve got to be ready to play our best game and expect them to come in playing hard and playing for a lot."
Snow day: The Huskers did their pre-practice warmup outside Thursday as snow fell in Lincoln. Even with cold temperatures forecast for Saturday, the biggest issue could be with gusty winds expected throughout the game.
"We’ve probably got a couple guys that still have only seen it once or twice in their life," Frost said of the snow, "so we rolled around in it a little bit and then got our work done."
Frost didn't expect a forecast of temperatures near the freezing mark to be an issue for his players.
"I think the only thing that will be a factor in the game potentially is the wind, and we’ll see how bad it’s blowing on Saturday," Frost said. "Our guys live in this every day, so I don’t think temperature is going to be an issue. It never is until it gets really cold. So the only thing we’re keeping our eye on is the wind."
Jaimes getting "nasty": Brenden Jaimes' development at left tackle this season has coincided with Nebraska's improvement across the offensive line. After playing right tackle last season, the 6-foot-6, 300-pound sophomore has started all nine games this season while protecting Adrian Martinez's blind side.
The issue has never been with Jaimes' talent, Frost said.
"I think the biggest thing with Jaimes is he’s starting to find a little bit of nasty, which is tough to do when you’re 18, 19 years old," Frost said. "But he’s got the talent, there was never any doubt about that, I just wanted to see him be mean on the field. And he’s started to do that and every week it seems like it’s coming out of him more and more."
Mentioning Mario: Frost was happy to see quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco appear on the Broyles Award watch list for the nation's top assistant coach.
"Mario’s one of the best in the country at coaching quarterbacks. I’ve known that a long time and I think other people are starting to figure that out," the head coach said. "I’ve seen him do unbelievable jobs with quarterbacks we’ve had in the past, obviously, and then to get an 18-year-old playing the way that he’s playing speaks volumes about what Mario’s capable of doing. So any honor that he can get is well-deserved."
Familiar look: Facing a quarterback such as Adrian Martinez every day in practice could pay off Saturday when the Huskers try to slow down former Husker QB AJ Bush and Illinois' explosive rushing attack.
"Some of their schemes are similar to what we do on offense. Obviously their guy can run. But they played a great game offensively last week; put up a bunch of yards, a bunch of big plays," Frost said. "Sometimes it takes awhile to find yourself. They seem to have settled on what they’re going to do and they looked really good at it last week. So hopefully a little bit of the experience against our offense helps our defense. But they’re going to pose some challenges for our 'D.'"
Legrone growing: Sean Beckton will continue to work his three-man rotation at tight end, but he certainly wouldn’t mind the opportunity to get freshman Katerian Legrone on the field more over the final three games.
The Atlanta native has appeared in just one game and had a catch for 8 yards against Bethune-Cookman, but has been more involved in offensive game-planning as the year’s gone along.
“Katerian, he’s going to have his role,” Beckton said this week. “He’s going to dress like he has the past three or four weeks. We’ve increased his practice productivity as far as reps. It’s not just individual anymore. He’s getting some team reps and we’ll see what he can do when he gets out there.”
Legrone’s traveled to each of NU’s two road games since fellow freshman Cameron Jurgens broke his foot last month.