First, Illinois punked host Nebraska on the field with a fake punt as open as a corn field.

Then, the Illini departed Memorial Stadium on their way home with a massive win and an emphatic parting shot. They’d won the game, 41-23 for the program’s second-straight victory after an 0-3 start.

“You can imagine what the locker room was like,” said Illinois coach Lovie Smith, who last year led the program to a stunning upset of Wisconsin and a bowl berth.

First on this Saturday, the punt. Up 28-10 just moments into the third quarter, having entered as a two-touchdown underdog, the Illini lined up in a traditional punt formation.

Punter Blake Hayes had more open space than a non-contact practice drill. He received the snap, surveyed the field and coasted 14 yards for a first down. On fourth-and-8!

Hayes told reporters after the game that he had not gotten an advance go-ahead from the coaches; he made the decision as the play unfolded and the Huskers’ punt coverage team completely ignored Hayes.

Then, postgame, Illinois’ social media account got a lasting, parting shot at the Huskers, who had been outspoken about their desire to play this football season amidst the Big Ten’s initial decision to sit out the 2020 campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Illinois later deleted the Tweet and replaced it with a nod to the progam’s wins at Nebraska with first Red Grange and on this day, Lovie Smith.

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John Brice has covered college football, mostly in the SEC as well as covering Notre Dame and Ohio State, for more than 20 years. He's a former Tennessee Vols football sideline reporter and believes life should be spent traveling or planning the next trip.