Staff Predictions: Penn State vs. Illinois
Week 5 of the college football season is here, and that means conference play is set to heat up all over the country. The Penn State Nittany Lions (2-2) and the Illini Fighting Illini (2-2) are set to play at Memorial Stadium in what will be the Big Ten opener for both teams. Let’s see some picks:
Penn State 23 Illinois 16
These teams have identical records but appear to be heading in opposite directions. Illinois is coming off an embarrassing twenty eight point home loss to Louisiana Tech while Penn State has won two straight contests heading into conference play. Almost as important as the winning streak is health. Running back Bill Belton returns, and so does left tackle Donovan Smith. Smith will be needed to protect Matt McGloin’s blindside against a good Illini defensive line.
Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase gave the Nittany Lions defense fits back in 2010 but has not developed much since his freshman season. Expect Illinois to hang with Penn State throughout the game, but the away team comes out on top here. Adrian Amos gets his first interception of the season, and Belton scores his first rushing touchdown as the winning streak extends to three games.
Penn State 28 Illinois 17
As it stands, Illinois is a 1 point favorite in most lines, which is just inconceivable to me after Louisiana Tech put up 52 points against the Illini last weekend at home. Penn State is 2-2 but could very well be 4-0. Illinois was blown out by both of the quality opponents they have played this season (Arizona and LA Tech). I foresee this game being a lot less exciting than last year’s 10-7 nail biter, with Penn State controlling the game offensively.
Penn State 24 Illinois 10
Somehow, the Nittany Lions come into this game as an underdog. With Matt McGloin’s recent offensive rhythm and the return of three starters on Saturday, Penn State wins pretty handily. Expect the run defense to be just as stout as they’ve been in recent weeks. The offense shouldn’t have any issues, especially with Bill Belton and Donovan Smith back in the lineup. With that said, it’ll be interesting to see how Bill O’Brien splits up the carries among his now healthy stable of running backs.
Penn State 21 Illinois 3
Expect Penn State’s defense to shut down Illinois’ offense just as they did last year in the 10-7 Penn State victory. It seems like Michael Mauti and company are on a mission, and Illinois’ offense, despite the play of dual threat QB Nathan Scheelhaase, won’t derail that.
It will be interesting to see the play of quarterback Matt McGloin in this game. While Illinois doesn’t have a great defense (see last week’s 52-24 loss to Louisiana Tech), they’re still a Big Ten defense. They traditionally have a strong front seven. They frustrated McGloin last year for almost the whole game, and they have to be somewhat stronger than the likes of Navy. Expect him to play decently but not as effectively as the last two weeks.
Overall, this should be an easy test for McGloin and the rest of the Nittany Lions. Hopefully the team can use this as a good warm up before 4-0 Northwestern comes to Happy Valley next Saturday for Homecoming.
Illinois 20 Penn State 15
Penn State showed strength and a little promise against Temple, but Big Ten play is way different than the Big East. Although Illinois did lose to Louisiana Tech, any team can play their best on any day. If Matt McGloin can find Allen Robinson for a few big plays, the Nittany Lions should have a chance.
Penn State 27 Illinois 13
Illinois, much like the a lot of the Big Ten, is not very good. That’s not to say that Penn State is a juggernaut, but they have more talent on both sides of the ball than Illinois. The Penn State defense has shown continual improvement each week and is familiar with both Illinois quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase and Riley O’Toole.
Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin has impressed and has shown great chemistry with breakout receiver Allen Robinson and tight end Kyle Carter. Expect Penn State to get out to an early lead, for Illinois to stay close, and for the Lions to eventually put the Illini away with a fourth quarter Bill Belton touchdown run.
Penn State 24 Illinois 17
Last year’s game against Illinois was a defensive battle ending in a 10-7 Penn State victory and Joe Paterno’s 409th win. Don’t expect this one to be as low scoring, at least for Penn State.
The Nittany Lions should be back to full strength on offense with Bill Belton, Derek Day and Donovan Smith returning from injury. Their returns will be a huge boost to an offense that continues to improve. Expect the Lions to go up early. They’ve outscored opposing teams 35-0 in the first quarter this season.
Penn State’s offensive line will be matched up against a very strong Illini defense. It is a unit that Bill O’Brien has gone out of his way to praise. Don’t be surprised if Illinois goes with a dual quarterback approach. Quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O’Toole have thrown for a combined 725 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions through four games.
With Belton and Day’s return, it will be interesting to see who gets carries in a now crowded backfield. Expect Zack Zwinak to get a few as well after his breakout performance last week.
Penn State 28 Illinois 14
Our offense will have a solid day with the return of several key players. Bill Belton and Derek Day will be leading the charge from the backfield. The offensive line has Donovan Smith back from his ankle injury, so Matt McGloin will have plenty of time to get his passes off. This offense will continue to improve and adjust to the new style.
Don’t expect much from Illinois. This isn’t going to be the defensive battle it was last year.