Penn State-Illinois Preview
Penn State (7-1, 4-0 Big Ten) will face what Joe Paterno said will be its second toughest game of the season when the Nittany Lions take on Illinois (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The Nittany Lions will be looking to remain in first place in the Big Ten Leaders Division with a win against the Fighting Illini. They will also be looking for revenge against an Illinois team that came in to Beaver Stadium and routed the Nittany Lions last season, 33-13.
Team: Illinois Fighting Illini
Conference: Big Ten
Head Coach: Ron Zook (57-61 in 10 seasons; 34-47 in seven seasons at Illinois)
Series History: Penn State leads 14-4
Players to look for: QB Nathan Scheelhaase, WR A.J. Jenkins, LB Jonathan Brown
Prediction: Penn State wins, 20-10
Illinois started the season 6-0 before losing its last two games to Ohio State and Purdue. Penn State is catching the Illini at the right time, as what looked like a potent Illinois offense has managed just 21 points total in its last two games. The Nittany Lions will hope to take advantage of an Illinois team that is lacking in confidence at the moment.
Almost every team that Penn State has faced this season features a running quarterback, and Illinois is no different. Scheelhaase has thrown for 1,624 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, but he is also the Illini’s leading rusher. Scheelhaase has run the ball 123 times for 412 yards and five touchdowns.
Penn State can make Illinois a one-dimensional team if it can shut down the passing game. To do so, the Nittany Lion secondary will have to stop Jenkins, who has caught 62 balls for 987 yards and seven touchdowns. Jenkins is far and away Scheelhaase’s favorite receiver, so stopping him will force the Illini to run the ball against the fifth-ranked defense in the country.
Penn State’s fifth-ranked defense comes by virtue of giving up only 13.1 points per game. Illinois is no slouch when it comes to defense, however. The Illini are ranked 15th, giving up just 18.1 points per game. Brown leads the team with 54 tackles, nine of which were for a loss of yards.
The Nittany Lions looked as if they were finally clicking offensively last week against Northwestern. However, much of that probably has to do with Northwestern’s defense. Also, while even the most steadfast Rob Bolden supporters now think Matt McGloin should start, Paterno left that question open at his weekly press conference. It would not be entirely out of the realm of possibility for Bolden to get the start even.
That being said, Penn State is riding high on a six-game win streak, while Illinois has lost its last two. With Silas Redd and the Nittany Lion offensive line gelling, Penn State will earn a hard-fought 20-10 victory over the Illini this week. Then, the Nittany Lions will have a bye week to rest before the grueling end to the season.