Lion In Wait: Penn State Versus Illinois

Lion In Wait is Onward State’s football column for Penn State conference games.  Published Friday at 5 P.M. before games featuring Big Ten opponents, LIW emphasizes the game from a fan perspective.

The sky is not falling.

This is simply what I needed to hear after last Saturday’s brutal loss to now 13th-ranked Iowa. As I walked home in rain-soaked clothing, my voice hoarse from screaming during series after series, I thought about how different Penn State’s schedule looked after the home loss to the Hawkeyes. Ohio State and Michigan looked as good as losses at this point. I would have probably projected a Champs Sports Bowl berth at that point.

It was an overreaction, to say the least.

Iowa is a great team that has consistently had our number the past few years. They came into Beaver Stadium, played great defense and smart football, smacking us in the mouth on national television. We’re not really used to that in Happy Valley.

While I won’t endorse Joe Paterno’s assertions that we’re still in the National Championship race – statistically he’s correct, but that’s another story entirely – I do think the team is better off than most fans think. Losing this early gives the team an opportunity to climb back up the rankings and attain a BCS berth by the end of the season. But a top-ten ranking would require the team running the table on the rest of its schedule.

Consequently, the Nittany Lions find themselves in a must-win situation this weekend. The Illinois Fightin’ Illini is a team with a 1-2 record, unimpressive statistics, and issues on both sides of the ball. A loss in Champaign this Saturday would surely knock Penn State out of the top 25.

It’s course correction time.

History Lesson

Quite the opposite from the series history with Iowa, Penn State’s recent outings against the Fightin’ Illini have been successful. Since joining the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions lead with ten wins against two losses to Illinois.

At the same time, let’s not forget the most recent loss in Champaign. In the 2007 clash, Penn State led in first downs, total yardage, and time of possession, but ultimately loss due to turnovers. While we don’t have to worry about Anthony Morelli’s questionable decision making and Austin Scott’s fumbling habits anymore, Penn State didn’t exactly take care of the ball last week. Cutting down on the turnovers (significantly) will keep the series lopsided in Penn State’s favor.

Public Enemy Number One

Arrelious Benn – Wide Receiver #12.

I could have easily put quarterback Juice Williams here, but I think that the match-up could be huge for Benn. Once called a Jeremy Maclin (statistical) doppelganger, Benn is an incredible athlete that has been held back by an ankle injury, registering only five receptions this year. However, three of those catches were against Ohio State last weekend, signaling an upward trend. The Nittany Lion secondary is untested that it has not faced a first-round NFL-caliber wideout this season. Benn breaking out could completely change the circumstances of the game.

The X-Factor

Daryll Clark.

Last week at this time, it was pretty much a given that ‘Clark Kent’ would be Superman on the field. But when the offensive line faced a decent defense, Clark had a lot less time to make plays, and consequently threw a number of off-target passes as well as numerous turnovers. The offense as a unit was the goat of last week’s excruciating loss, but the nature of the quarterback position puts the most pressure on #17. Luckily, the Illini’s defense is not nearly as impressive as the Hawkeyes’, as they are second-to-worst in the Big Ten in yards and points allowed. If Clark – and by extension, the offense – can overcome past struggles, a win is in hand.

Tips For The Game

1) Check your listings for the game. According to Penn State Live, it should be found on either ABC (regionally) or ESPN (beyond the regional designation).

2) If  you’re a Penn State fan that is neither in Happy Valley or with the team in Champaign, try looking for a local bar to watch the game in. As we detailed earlier, there are quite a few Penn State bars out there.

3)  If you lift the family cat over your head for each time the Nittany Lions score (as we tend to do with other fans in Beaver Stadium), your pet will start to hide whenever you watch Penn State games in the future. Seriously, I’m speaking from experience. They figure it out after two games, maximum.

Prediction

Penn State is once again the overwhelming favorite, as the line is set at 8. As a superstitious fan I always prefer being considered the underdog – I think that may have been better everyone’s mindset had it been the case last week – but the series history and Illinois’ 1-2 record justifies the odds.

This game will depend on which offense gets on track first. Each team is lead by a dual-threat quarterback with the capability to put up serious points when running at full efficiency. Consequently, the removal of Daryll Clark or Juice Williams from being a factor the game can dictate the outcome.

Penn State 17, Illinois 14. Both teams have had recent offensive struggles, so it’s more likely this game is going to be tight. But the Lions will pull out the win when they’re backed into a corner.

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About the Author

Mark

Mark McColey is a Senior majoring in Advertising and Labor-Employment relations. Among his loves are Penn State Football, The Steelers, The Penguins, The Simpsons, Tina Fey, and Arrested Development.

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