Preview: Illinois At Penn State

Penn St. Nittany Lions (7-1 Overall, 4-0 Big Ten, 2-0 Pig) vs. Illinois Fightin' Zookers (6-2 Overall, 2-2 Big Ten, 1-2 Pig)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Beaver Stadium, University Park, PA
The Line: Penn State -5 (VegasInsider.com)
TV: ABC or ESPN2, depending on your location. Carter Blackburn (play-by-play), Brock Huard (analyst), Lisa Salters (sideline).
Weather: Let's split the difference between NWS and AccuWeather and call it 39 degrees with a 50% chance of rain and snow.  This is an area of personal geekdom, not an area of my expertise, but it appears that a storm is going to blow up over Delmarva and bring snow to areas along and east of the I-81 corridor.  Accuweather predicts it thusly, as of Thursday night:

 400x266_10272050_nesnowmap_medium

UPDATE: This thing has taken a turn for the worse.  NWS now calling for 3-7" in State College, rain turning to snow after 10 a.m.  Increased amounts to the east and south (5-9" in Harrisburg, so yay!). Good luck with that.  To really drive the point home, here's a snippet from the NWS office in State College this morning:

IT IS THE WEIGHT OF THE SNOW THAT IS MOST TROUBLESOME. AS IS NORMAL...MANY AREAS - ESP THE LOWER SUSQ - STILL HAVE A HIGH PERCENTAGE OF THE LEAVES ON THE TREES. THIS HEAVY WET SNOW WILL WEIGH THE TREES DOWN AND BREAK LIMBS AND LEAD TO POWER OUTAGES. TAKING ALL THIS INTO ACCOUNT...THE WATCH IS ABOUT 50PCT DUE TO IMPACT AND 50PCT DUE TO THE 6 INCH OR MORE THRESHOLD BEING REACHED.

THE SNOWFALL RATES COULD GET IT ICY/MESSY REALLY QUICKLY. MANY FOLKS TRAVELING TO STATE COLLEGE THIS WEEKEND SHOULD KEEP A CLOSE EYE ON THIS SITUATION AND START TO CONSIDER CHANGING YOUR TRAVEL PLANS.

Please do be careful if you're driving to Happy Valley by one of the affected areas.  Parking will be a mess, rest assured of that.  Lots of leaves still on trees + heavy wet snow = trees falling down and power outages. 

Castro On Waterskis.  I mentioned in the podcast that when Ron Zook was essentially told to hire a pair of hotshot coordinators or risk losing his own job, he made Illinois' special teams his pretty little pet.  He was, after all, an NFL special teams coach.  So how's that going?  As Mike ably pointed out in his "Just The Stats" column, it's um, well:

Kickoff Returns 118th
Kickoff Return Defense 101st
Net Punting 102nd
Punt Returns 116th
Punt Return Defense 53rd

That's out of 120 FBS teams, kids.

Calm Down. I SAID CALM DOWN WHY WON'T YOU JUST CALM DOWN?  This has essentially been Zook's advice to his team after two rather horrible losses to Ohio State and Purdue. 

Zook says he senses that his players have been too tense during the two losses, perhaps burdened by higher expectations after their hot start.

"The last two weeks we've played tight, particularly on the offensive side of the football," he said. "We're trying too hard and pressing. We as a coaching staff have got to let them relax and understand this is the same football team that won six games."

So we're nice and calm, and...you had something to add, Coach?

 

Star receiver A.J. Jenkins moves the ball into Stuart Smalley territory:

The Illini aren't worried about the sky-is-falling attitude among some critics, they said.

"We're just trying to keep the confidence up.  We don't want to (act) like we're terrified or have a panic attack. We know we're still a real good team."


If You Must Read One Thing From Enemy Territory.  Go with Herb Gould's piece from the Chicago Sun-Times this week, entitled "What Is Going On With The Illini?".  Copious quotes below the jump.

  

The tweaks Illinois plans at Penn State on Saturday include relying more on tailback Jason Ford, the senior bruiser, while giving young players such as backup QB Reilly O’Toole and receiver Darius Millines (foot) more opportunity.

...

Depth and turnovers have been catching up with a defense that’s still better than expected.

Illinois basically won its first six against teams that like to spread things out, allowing coordinator Vic Koenning to go with fewer linemen and more defensive backs. Now that Illinois is facing more run-oriented teams, the depth problem is being exposed.

...

What’s happened?

The offensive line is starting to struggle. The running game is bogging down against bulkier Big Ten run defenses. And quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has less time to find receiver A.J. Jenkins on slow-developing deep routes. Purdue, which had six sacks in its first six games, sacked Scheelhaase four times.

Even though Jenkins still leads the Big Ten in receiving yards (123.4 a game) and receptions (7.8), he’s cooled off and been prone to mistakes, including a crucial fumble and a wrong fourth-and-short route that ended Illinois’ day against Ohio State.

Does that sound like a team to be particularly concerned about?

Keeping An Eye On The Future.  It's not Ohio State week, but you can't ever turn your back on those people.

Just before 4 a.m., Bainbridge Township police clocked a car traveling east down Route 422, topping speeds over 100 mph.  After police deployed stop sticks, the woman got out of the car wearing nothing more than a g-string, tennis shoes and a mesh, see-through top.

So, yeah, you can just go look at the local news video of this incident.  I'll wait.


Prediction In GIF Form?

1236241875_epic_accident_caught_on_tv_medium

Mind your business, Penn State.  There is a tumbling, wrecking jalopy coming your way.  Let it be a tumbling, wrecking jalopy and get the hell out of its way.  Illinois has resorted to zen psychology and confidence building.  They've completely fallen apart in their last two games.  Think about it -- they were dominated by a team which completed one pass, then dominated by, well, Purdue.  Contain A.J. Jenkins, hit Nathan Scheelhaase, win the game.

Penn State 26, Illinois 14


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