I'm not in the mood to write up a flashy intro this week. You know how it works by now. If not, you'll figure it out.
For all of Penn State's deficiencies exposed last Saturday, there is no way they should lose against an Illinois team that can't defend, can't score points, and is led by a man who can't coach his way out of a wet paper bag. Illinois is a beaten squad with fans who are just waiting to turn on their team and fire Ron Zook at season's end, if not sooner. As such, this game is really about the character and focus of Penn State. Will they struggle to execute in their first road game and in the wake of a pulverizing loss in primetime against Iowa? They certainly didn't respond well to adversity last week, individually or collectively.
Illinois' chances for a home upset will hinge on their ability to get pressure on Daryll Clark and hope for turnovers. The Illini secondary stinks -- there's no other way to describe it. If Clark can set his feet and deliver the ball with conviction, it's going to be a blowout. They don't have a defensive line like Iowa's, but couldn't they have one on par with, say, Temple or Syracuse? Those teams gave PSU's offensive line fits, as well.
I expect a slow start, ugly turnovers by both teams, and an underwhelming Penn State victory that will leave us with more questions than answers. They just can't lose this game, though. As much as I dislike Penn State's offensive line and special teams, Illinois is just too awful right now. But if you thought the Iowa loss was devastating...well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Penn State wins a game that sets football back 40 years.
Penn State 21, Illinois 13
Does anyone else feel like they even know this team yet? As if it wasn’t hard enough to judge the team’s football skills, now we have to add in the morale factor and speculate on their leadership. Lee is out another week, our quarterback is getting text messages from the enemy, and we’re breaking out the all whites for the first time a full month into the season.
They say public opinion completely overreacts to both wins and losses, but I’m not sure what that means for the general consensus on Illinois. They were everyone’s darkhorse pick to compete for the league championship. With Juice perhaps growing up and Benn back for more, that offense was supposed to roll. But man, have they done the opposite so far.
They were finally supposed to beat Missouri in their early season rivalry, only to somehow finish the night with just 9 points (admittedly without Benn most of the game, but every other team Missouri has faced this year has bested that total, including Furman and winless Nevada). They didn’t even show up last week against the Buckeyes. Juice has zero passing touchdowns and hasn’t been that effective running the ball. The season is basically lost, save those two random games where they really break out .
I just hope that isn’t this week. Even after their trouncing from the Buckeyes, the line opened at just 6. Lee is still out and that makes me less confident in our ability to shut down Illinois ground game. Our special teams are awful and Clark has an interception in every game this season. I think the Penn State defense can hold it’s own, but a returned kick and poor field position make this one closer than I’d like.
Penn State 27, Illinois 24
BSD Mike Says...
On the surface this looks like a good game for Penn State to shake off their disappointing performance from last Saturday night and get back to winning games. The Illinois offense couldn't find the endzone if you gave them a map and a GPS. Juice WIlliams is handing out turnovers like it's a bake sale. There's nobody in the backfield to compliment him in the running game. Their defense looks just barely tougher than Strawberry Shortcake. By all measures, this game should be an easy win for a team that won the Big Ten Championship a year ago.
And yet, I'm scared. We are now five weeks into the season. The hope that things are going to get better or work themselves out is fading away like the green in the autumn leaves. Until I see otherwise, I don't believe this offensive line can play any better. I don't think Evan Royster will find any room to run. I don't think Daryll Clark can handle even the slightest amount of pressure, and when things go bad he sulks rather than shake it off. I don't think he can get through a game without throwing one or two interceptions. I don't think we can return a kick past the 20 yard line. I don't think we can prevent our opponent from returning one past the 30. I don't think our place kicker can hit a field goal outside of 35 yards. And I don't think any of these problems will magically go away this week.
I think the defense will play well and keep the Nittany Lions in the game, but in the last two games against Illinois Arrelious Benn has absolutely killed them with big plays. This young secondary hasn't been tested against a beast like him. Miss an assignment against Temple and it's just a 36 yard gain. Miss an assignment against Benn and it's six points.
I just have a bad feeling about this game. It's the first road game of the year, and we all know that means PUCKER PUCKER PUCKER. I think it's going to be aggravating to watch as the Penn State offense bumbles and stumbles. I think the defense will be playing with their back against the wall often, and in the end the offense and special teams blow it. God, I hope I'm wrong.
Penn State 16, Illinois 20