It's time to turn the page on the Iowa game and start looking ahead to Illinois. So let's do by taking a look at the Illinois Fighting Illini by the numbers. Take note this week I added new categories for 1st Downs on offense and 1st Downs allowed on defense per game. I think this will be a nice compliment to the 3rd down conversion stats, since a team could have a great 3rd down conversion defense, but you may not get the whole picture if they give up a lot of big plays on 1st and 2nd downs.
Difference <25 in National Rank = Push
Difference >25 in National Rank =
Difference >50 in National Rank =
Difference >75 in National Rank =
Differences >100 in National Rank =
Note: The Redzone TD% and Redzone TD% Defense are calculated by me and not ranked by the NCAA. Determining who has the advantage in these categories is strictly my arbitrary judgement.
More analysis after the jump.
Starting at the top of the chart, Penn State's offensive woes are readily apparent. There is just nothing that Penn State is doing particularly well on offense other than protect Robert Bolden. So Illinois has the slight advantage when Penn State has the ball, but it's not because Illinois is all that great at defense. It's just that Penn State is that horrible right now.
The good news is that Illinois' offense is worse than Penn State's, and Penn State's defense is better than Illinois'. The Fighting Illini are one of the worst passing teams in the country. Even worse than Penn State, so whoo for that. I was curious for this opponent what their run/pass split looks like, so I looked it up. The Illini run the ball 66.7% of the time (169 rushing attempts vs. 84 passing attempts). Stopping running back Mikel Leshoure will be paramount, but State will also have to keep an eye on quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who has 216 rushing yards on 51 carries this year. Illinois loves to run the zone read option which is something Tom Bradley's defense hasn't seen yet this year. So look forward to another rocky first quarter until the defense settles in and adjusts.
Illinois punter Anthony Santella is an outstanding punter that should give Illinois a huge advantage, but other than that Penn State should win the special teams battles. The Nittany Lions have made a miraculous turnaround in special teams this year, and they should have a decent advantage in the kickoff games.
Penn State has also been the best in the nation in limiting penalties. Considering the youth on this team, that is a pretty remarkable statistic. Illinois, on the other hand, shoots themselves in the foot regularly. In fact, they could have possibly beaten Ohio State last weekend if they hadn't gifted the Buckeyes two costly penalties on their final scoring drive.
So how do I read the tea leaves this week? It seems to me Penn State's offensive numbers are probably a bit skewed by the fact they have played Alabama and Iowa. So I suspect the Illinois defense should be a pretty even match for the Penn State offense. Now, Illinois' offensive numbers might be a bit skewed by having played Ohio State, but I think the Penn State defense should have a significant advantage. Look for State to load the box and force Scheelhaase to throw the ball. This is a one dimensional offense that the Nittany Lions should be able to stop.
Ultimately, this is a game Penn State should win comfortably, but the redzone problems are the big boogie man for this team. They could make four trips to the redzone, but if they come away with four field goals and Illinois scores two touchdowns in their trips, Penn State loses the game. This has to be the week where Penn State finds a way to punch it in.