CHAMPAIGN, Ill. • AJ Bush Jr. knows the environment all too well.
Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., It's noisy – hoarse, really. Nebraska fans encourage opposing teams as they enter and leave the field, a relative rarity and something that Bush was on the other side in 2014 and 2015 when he was a quarterback on the Husker team.
Bush has engaged with Nebraska outside Norcross High School in Georgia. He wore a red shirt in 2014 and did not play in a game in 2015 before moving to Iowa Community College, then to Virginia Tech before coming to Champaign.
"It will be special," Bush said. "At the end of the day, I can not put much emphasis on this, I have to play for Illinois, it's not about me, it's not a one-man show, it's nice to get out of a big game in that environment. He's just creating something big. "
Then when Illini (4-5, 2-4 Big Ten) takes the field at 11 on Saturday, it will be the first game of Bush against the team with which he signed with the high school, and it happens that he arrives in Lincoln after his best game in an Illini shirt. He passed for 216 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns in a 55-31 victory over Minnesota.
"It's a special moment when you have the chance to get back to the place you looked at home, where you got the story," said Illinois coach Lovie Smith. "It's a bit of an added incentive, I'm sure, AJ is coming out of an excellent football game."
After losing the first six games of the season, Nebraska (2-7, 1-5) won two of their last three, scoring at least 31 points in each of their three games.
"They are a team that played football very well in recent times," said Smith. "They played an outstanding game against the state of Ohio, and every time you go out on the street it's a daunting task, especially in an environment like that.
Bush was assisted in the great assault of Illinois at Minnesota by rushing back to Reggie Corbin, who has 952 short films running for the season and has produced explosive comedy almost weekly. Two weeks ago, the team rallied behind Corbin on his return to his home state of Maryland. The Illini hope to do the same with Bush on his return to Nebraska.
"He's our quarterback," said Corbin. "We protect it at all times, regardless of who it is, now it's a little more, a little more effort, we should not have more efforts to give, but a little more. regardless of who we are playing against – do not let anyone get close to him – do not let anyone think about hitting him. "
Bush's counterpart is New Zealander Adrian Martinez, who pitched for 266 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 107 yards and scored 2 points in a 36-31 defeat last week at No. 8 Ohio State.
Martinez launched for 1,922 yards and 12 touchdowns while he scored another 480 yards and six points on the ground. "They've had a lot of great quarterbacks, (Nebraska coach) Scott Frost is one of them, that's past that," Smith said. "Martinez is another, he is a freshman, but he can throw the ball, he is athletic and he can beat you with his feet, this week will be a great challenge for our defense." I do not see the opportunity to compete in that way. "
Martinez's offense is in third place in the Big Ten in total yards (468.9 per game) behind only Ohio State and Purdue. The defense of Illinois, however, has been much improved in last week's victory against Minnesota, with Smith taking over as defensive coordinator following Hardy Nickerson's resignation. Illini scored a nasty three-loss defeat during which the defense was chosen by Purdue, Wisconsin and Maryland.
Frost hopes that the experience of his defense against Martinez will translate into practice in the success against Bush and Illini, who rank seventh in the Big Ten with 416 yards per game, and seconds to run with 249.4 yards per game. The Husker class thirteenth in the Big Ten in total defense, allowing a distance of 442.8 yards per game – just before Illini, who sat down (524.8).
"Some of their patterns are similar to what we do in attack," said Frost. "Obviously their boyfriend can run – he was here so you know him well like me – but last week they played a big offensive game … they put up a bunch of yards, a lot of big bets. It takes a while to find yourself and they seem to have been content with what they are going to do, and they seemed really good at it this past week so we hope that some of the experience against our attack will help our defense, but will bring some challenges for our defense ".