CHAMPAIGN – There was an unfamiliar sight on the stat sheet after Illinois' 39-19 loss to Nebraska on Saturday.
Actually, it was an omission – senior receiver Ryan Lankford played, but didn't make a catch. That hadn't happened since Nov. 19, 2011, a home game against Wisconsin in his sophomore season.
A combination of unfortunate circumstances created the goose egg – windy conditions, a tough road atmosphere, and Nebraska's effective pressure on quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase – but in an Illinois offense designed to get the ball in the hands of its playmakers, it was surprising to see Lankford get left out.
It's an oversight the Illini are working to correct during their off week before Wisconsin visits Champaign for an Oct. 19 game in which Illinois will need Lankford's electric speed.
"I was trying to do more than I was required to do. I made it bigger than it really was," Lankford said. "It's still the same game, still the same routes I run every week. I just tried to do too much."
And ended up with nothing. Lankford always has been more of a big-play than big-volume receiver, but offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said he would like to see Lankford be like Bears receiver Brandon Marshall and ask for the ball more.
"He's got to take on a role where he says, 'I have to be the guy,'" Cubit said. "There were certain times where he was negated. We have to get Ryan to play at a high level. I have to do a better job of getting him in some spots. We have to get that kid going because the last two games, he's been out."
The goose egg came on the heels of a one-catch day against Miami of Ohio in which Lankford was one of 11 Illini to catch a pass. As much as Cubit might like Lankford to take the reins, that selfishness might not be in his DNA.
"I'd love to be that guy, but I don't need to be that guy," Lankford said. "I've never been a one-man-team kind of guy. … If teams start rolling coverages to protect the deep ball, my catches go down and my teammates reach their goals, then that's what needs to be done."
Saturday was a bad day overall for the Illini passing game. Scheelhaase completed 13 of 26 for a season-low 135 yards.
One area where Lankford said he and the Illini can help bail out their quarterback is blitz pickup. Scheelhaase took three sacks and was hurried six times – a problem Illinois needs to fix in a hurry.
"It's always frustrating when you feel like you can't contribute," Lankford said. "I've never been a guy to make it about me. Anytime that I can help, I love to help. I just feel like I didn't do my job to help the team."
Hometown: Jacksonville, Fla.
2013 stats: 11 receptions, 236 yards, 1 TD