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LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska coach Bo Pelini and his players will prepare for Illinois this week with the understanding that some of what his defense sees in Saturday night's Big Ten opener will not necessarily have been something they saw in film study.
"They're a little bit of a flavor-of-the-week type offense," Pelini said Monday. "They have certain concepts they're going to do, but they change pretty drastically at times week to week. I know they came out against us last year and had that crazy set they showed us there for a while."
That formation that caused the defensive coaches to do double-takes was one that split offensive tackles out as wide receivers. Maybe the No. 21 Cornhuskers (4-0) will see it again; maybe they won't.
Nebraska knows, however, that quarterback Wes Lunt will pass early and often for the Illini (3-1). The 6-foot-5, 225-pound sophomore transfer from Oklahoma State is throwing for 309 yards a game to rank second in the Big Ten and 14th nationally. He's completed 66 percent of his attempts, and his 11 touchdown passes are most in the conference.
"It'll be nice to know the ball is going to get slung around like at Fresno State," cornerback Josh Mitchell said. "We have to make sure our technique is good during the week and that we know the route concepts and are tuned into the game plan."
The wild card is running back Josh Ferguson, who ran for a career-high 190 yards against Texas State last week and had 114 in the Illini's 39-19 loss to Nebraska last year. Ferguson also caught eight passes for 82 yards against the Huskers.
"To me, he's one of the better backs in the conference," Pelini said. "I think their staff knows he's a good football player so they look to feature him. I would hope we understand that."
The Huskers' points of emphasis coming out of the 41-31 win over Miami are tackling and pass coverage. Pelini said what should have been 5-yard gains turned into 25-yarders because of poor tackling technique, and the linebackers and secondary allowed 359 yards passing even though the front four were applying decent pressure.
"We went through the tape with a fine-tooth comb and thought our guys learned from it," Pelini said. "We did some things that didn't hurt us in the football game that could hurt you down the line. We have to get some things cleaned up, more fundamentally and technique-wise than anything else."
Nebraska is favored by 18 points against an Illinois team that has won three Big Ten games since 2011. Given Nebraska's close call against FCS McNeese State in the second game, Mitchell said he and his teammates will resist the urge to look past this week to the Oct. 4 road game against defending conference champion Michigan State.
"It's for keeps now," Mitchell said. "Everyone in the conference is 0-0 right now. So I let my teammates know this: You want this Big Ten championship, you play every opponent like it's the national championship."