Chicago Colleges: Nate Bussey
Illinois senior linebacker Nate Bussey is out these days to hurt quarterbacks, but it hasn’t stopped him from dreaming of still being one.
Once considered a top high school quarterback in the Washington D.C. area, Bussey used to torment defenses with his running and passing abilities. Bussey’s YouTube highlight videos still exist for anyone who want to judge for themselves.
Even he often returns to those videos and watches a much more slender and less muscular Nate Bussey race past defensive backs for touchdowns and throw bombs usually to former high school and college teammate Arrelious Benn for scores.
Since Illinois offensive Paul Petrino isn’t likely to draw up a linebacker option pass for Bussey anytime soon, he now finds other ways to get his hands on the football. For one, he plays catch before practices and games. Secondly, and more importantly to Illinois, he’s been running down quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers as if they’ve been stealing his ball.
Through three games, Bussey, a quarterback turned safety turned inside linebacker turned outside linebacker, is off to the best start in his career. He began the year by matching a career-high eight tackles against Missouri and setting a career-best two tackles for a loss. For the season, he’s tied for fourth on the team with 19 tackles.
Bussey is proud of those numbers, too. He put a lot of time in adding nearly 30 pounds of muscle to his frame and learning how to become an effective defensive player throughout his career.
“My passion right now is to destroy my opponents,” Bussey said. “I feel like I’m making the plays I’m expected to make. I feel like my play at outside linebacker speaks for itself.”
There were two plays that especially screamed for him against Missouri. On back-to-back plays, Bussey became wide receiver T.J. Moe’s worst nightmare.
On the first one, Missouri set up a screen for Moe, Bussey read it, quickly eluded the Tigers’ blocker and dropped Moe for a three-yard loss on the right side of the field. On the next play, Missouri attempted the same play on the left side, and Bussey recognized it again. As Moe caught the ball behind the line of scrimmage, Bussey avoided Missouri’s blocker, darted at Moe and delivered a shot that popped Moe’s helmet off.
“I guess they thought they could run the same play for a gain, but they didn’t,” Bussey said. “On campus, people will come up to me and say they saw me on TV and congratulate me on the hit.”
Illinois outside linebackers coach Ron West wasn’t surprised by the back-to-back stops. If anything, he would have been surprised if Bussey hadn’t reacted as he did.
“That’s what he’s got to do on those particular plays,” West said. “There shouldn’t be a wideout in the Big Ten that should be able to block him. That’s what we want him to think.”
Heading into season, Bussey and Illinois’ defense were questioned. Many weren’t sure if the defense would able to bounce back from last season’s woes.
Even when Illinois faced Southern Illinois, an FCS team, in Week 2, the Illini were only favored by slightly more than a touchdown because of those defensive concerns. Illinois won the game 35-3.
Bussey, though, doesn’t mind people questioning him and his defensive teammates.
“When people do that, it motivates us and pushes us to play hard,” Bussey said. “The defense has played well. I have a good feeling about it. It feels like 2007 when we went to the Rose Bowl.”
If Illinois can get back to another bowl, maybe then it would be time for a trick play with Bussey getting his hands on the ball again.
“I definitely would take that offer,” Bussey said.
Biggest hit of the game: After eluding a blocker and taking down Missouri wide receiver T.J. Moe for a three-yard loss on the right side of the field, Illinois linebacker Nate Bussey did the same for another three-yard loss, but with even more impact, on the left side on the following play. As Moe caught the ball behind the line of scrimmage, Bussey avoided Missouri’s blocker, darted at Moe and delivered a shot that popped Moe’s helmet off.
Biggest play of the game: Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert was being pressured and was running out of time to find someone open on third-and-5 on Illinois’ 5-yard line. Gabbert scrambled to his left with Illinois’ defenders pursuing and finally found an open Moe in the far left corner of the end zone. The touchdown pulled Missouri within 13-10 and sparked the offense.
Illinois MVP: Running back Mikel Leshoure. There had been a lot of hype about the type of season Leshoure could have, and he started living up to it on Saturday. He broke a few runs, including one for 42 yards, and finished with 112 yards on 20 carries.
Missouri MVP: Defensive end Aldon Smith. Smith gave Illinois’ offensive line fits all night. He had a team-high 10 tackles, three tackles for a loss, two sacks and one quarterback hurry.
One for the history books: Just as Illinois redshirt quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was delivering his first career touchdown pass, Missouri’s Carl Gettis was putting a hit on him. After admiring Jenkins’ run into the end zone, Scheelhaase turned to Gettis and let him know what just happened.
The forgotten story: With the play of redshirt freshman Scheelhaase, the defense holding its own and a close game with Missouri, there will be little talk of Illinois’ kicking game after this one. It should be noted, though, that kicker Derek Dimke connected on two field goals, including a career-long 52-yarder. It was the longest Illinois field goal since 1987. Punter Anthony Santella didn’t get a lot of work, but he did boom them when needed. He averaged 46.8 yards on four punts and had a long of 52 yards.