Staff Predictions: Penn State vs. Illinois
It’s almost time for another football Saturday at Beaver Stadium. These mid-season, weak Big Ten opponents used to be something of a chore for Penn State, but after coming off one of the most crippling losses in program history, every game means something. Ever since Illinois coach Tim Beckman came into State College to recruit after the sanctions were implemented, Penn State has had an unlikely rivalry with the Illini. Here are our staff predictions for tomorrow’s noon kickoff.
Penn State 41, Illinois 24
Despite the Nittany Lions’ struggles against respectable Big Ten opponents — meaning Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio State — the Illini are not up to that standard of play. They have a decent quarterback with very few reliable weapons, a mediocre run game, and pretty much no defense at all.
It would be a huge surprise if Penn State is not able to take control of this game early and maintain control through all four quarters. Penn State has an offense that is capable of dominating a mediocre Illini defense. Surprisingly, Penn State has a defense that is capable of dominating a mediocre Illini offense.
This is almost like a one-week return to the non-conference schedule. After a beatdown in Ohio, Penn State could use a big win. They will get that big win on Saturday against Illinois, one of the worst teams in the conference.
Penn State 34, Illinois 20
This Illinois team has struggled in conference play, having been blown out by both Nebraska and Wisconsin before being dominated by Michigan State, 42-3. I believe that Penn State will be the next Big Ten team in line to drop a W on this weak Illini squad.
At home and against a more manageable opponent, Hackenberg and Co. will bounce back from their shellacking at the hands of Ohio State. Look for Belton to carry the bulk of the offense with a few guest appearances from the Hackenberg-to-Robinson connection.
As for the defense, they face an inconsistent quarterback in Nathan Scheelhaase, who played well against weak opponents early in the Illini season but has struggled as of late. If the Scheelhaase that torched Cincinnati for four passing TDs comes to play, though, Penn State’s shaky secondary might have a problem. Another concern is Illinois tailback Josh Ferguson, who leads the Illini in both rushing and receiving yards.
I’m not too worried about this game. My prediction: Penn State struggles early but takes down the Illini in a convincing fashion for their second conference win.
Penn State 34, Illinois 16
Penn State will bounce back against Illinois this weekend for their third consecutive win over the Illini. Illinois will continue to be winless in the conference with its fourth consecutive loss on the season.
After allowing 63 points to Ohio State last weekend, Penn State’s defense will keep Illinois from scoring for the majority of the game, forcing a few turnovers. Illinois has given up almost 34 points a game, and it will likely stay consistent with that average this week.
After two interceptions last week, Christian Hackenberg will feel better this week after throwing at least two touchdowns. Penn State’s running backs will have a pretty solid day too, running for more than 200 yards combined.
Penn State 38, Illinois 17
Everyone’s favorite coach Tim Beckman is in town and his team hasn’t played in a competitive game in over a month. I don’t see that changing this week.
Penn State has something to prove this week on both offense and defense, so look for the Nittany Lions to try to take advantage of Illinois’ weaknesses on both sides of the ball. Look for O’Brien to try to get Hackenberg back into a passing groove early, with Bill Belton taking advantage of his new status as the featured running back.
Illinois’ quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase can harm our defense on a good day, but he hasn’t had one in a while. Penn State’s defensive line should have no problem creating pressure, so look for the defensive backs to take advantage of rushed passes to possibly create turnovers.
31 Penn State, 13 Illinois
I don’t think Penn State will have too much trouble with this one. Last week was by far the toughest loss of the O’Brien era, so I expect BOB will be looking to take his frustrations out on a very mediocre Illinois team.
I don’t know much about the Illini, but they can’t be very good considering Tim Beckman is still their coach. Christian Hackenberg will pass for 300 yards, Allen Robinson will tally at least 100 yards receiving, and the defense will put at least seven on the board at some point tomorrow.
Penn State may have some trouble out of the gate, but this one should be over by the middle of the third quarter.
Penn State 40, Illinois 28
Just looking at the opponent, Illinois is similar to Indiana. Both teams look to play as fast as possible, both teams are weak defensive squads, and both teams are incredibly aggressive in all phases of the game. When you think of this, the Illini should give the Nittany Lions some trouble.
However, I think that Bill O’Brien has had this game marked down on his calendar for more than a year. He knows what Tim Beckman tried to do to his team, stealing his players after the sanctions went down, and I think O’Brien is angry. I think the offense is angry after struggling against Ohio State. I think the defense is angry after Ohio State embarrassed them. I think everyone is angry after last week, and who better than a subpar Illinois team to punish?
I think this is the week that Christian Hackenberg and Allen Robinson really connect and go wild. While I think Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch have nice games in the backfield, I think Hack to A-Rob will be destroy a bad Illinois defense. I also think the Nittany Lion defense comes out ultra-aggressive, and Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase makes them pay. However, once the Nittany Lions settle down, I think the unit stays disciplined, plays with a chip on its shoulder, and puts up its best performance so far in conference play.
Penn State 37, Illinois 7
Last week was the worst game I’ve ever seen played from a Penn State team in any sport (which is saying something since I’ve seen a good number of Penn State basketball games). I think the team will be eager look to prove they aren’t as bad as they looked in Columbus. Combine that with Tim Beckman coming into town for the first time since the sanctions hit, and it isn’t setting up well for Illinois.
- Bill Belton to have another good game and solidify his starting role over Zach Zwinak. Don’t expect Zwinak to get a meaningful carry until the fourth quarter.
- Allen Robinson to just continue to be Allen Robinson and run all over this weak Illini defense.
- Tyler Ferguson and Christian Hackenberg to both throw for triple-digit yards by the time this one is over.
Factor in Nathan Scheelhaase’s struggles vs. Penn State’s defense in his career, and this sets up perfectly for the Nittany Lions to get their mojo back before playing a strong Minnesota team next week.
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With barely six weeks until the first ball is kicked for the 2020 campaign, let’s see how the Nittany Lions might line up.
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