Penn State-Illinois Game Preview

Jared Slanina

Penn State looks to bounce back against Tim Beckman and the Fighting Illini.

BO'B may just set a record for the two shortest handshakes in consecutive weeks. I'm sure it won't be the only chilly reception Beckman receives during his second trip to State College.

Penn State (4-3, 1-2) vs. Illinoi (3-4, 0-3)

Kickoff: Noon., Beaver Stadium, State College, PA

The Line: PSU -10.5

TV: ESPN Beth Mowins (p-by-p), Joey Galloway (analyst) Loren Crispell (sideline)

Weather: High of 53 with a low of 36, meaning it will still be brisk at kickoff. Showers are expected later in the day, but it should be dry until well after the end of the game.

COACHES:

Bill O'Brien:

PENN STATE RECORD: 12-7, 2nd year

OVERALL RECORD: 12-7

VS. ILLINOIS: 1-0

Tim Beckman:

ILLINOIS RECORD: 5-14, 2nd Year

OVERALL RECORD: 26-30, 5th Year

VS. PENN STATE: 0-1

...NOW THE FUN PART

ILLIONOIS OFFENSE VS PENN STATE DEFENSE

It looked as though senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase had turned the corner after a tremendous start, even being named midseason All-Big Ten by ESPN. However, his numbers have seen a sharp decline once the Illini reached the meat of its schedule. Scheelhaase is still capable of having a big day against the struggling Penn State defense, and the Illini will need him to have an efficient day on Saturday. He is not the most mobile of quarterbacks, but has enough scrambling ability to escape the pocket and pick up the occasional first down with his legs. Scheelhaase has a tendency to hold on to the ball for too long at times, so Penn State will be able to rack up a few sacks if they find a way to get pressure on him. As we know, it's anyone's guess if they can do that or not this week.

Sophomore running back Josh Ferguson is the teams leading rusher, but may be best out of the backfield. Ferguson has 361 yards each in both rushing and receiving on the season, and averages 14.4 yards per catch. He will likely find some open space for a few big gains on Saturday. As far as his running abilities, it depends on what the defense gives up. He had a monster game against Nebraska three weeks ago, but completely sputtered the last two weeks against Wisconsin and Michigan State. Illinois top wide receiver is senior Ryan Lankford, who only has 15 receptions on the season.

ILLINOIS DEFENSE VS PENN STATE OFFENSE

Illinois has one of the worst rushing defenses in the entire nation, meaning Bill Belton (and company??) could have a big day on the ground. However, the last time Penn State played a team with a porous rush defense they also set a school record for most pass attempts in a single game. Illinois isn't all that much better against the pass either, meaning that Penn State could light up the scoreboard if things are clicking.

The Illini give up 33.7 points per game, and were rocked by a Michigan State offense last week who just recently began to form an offensive identity.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Illinois is terrible at defending kickoffs, and gives opponents a major advantage with establishing field position. Unfortunately, Penn State is anemic at returning kicks so this may not be much of a factor on Saturday.

Sophomore kicker Taylor Zalewski is a reliable option, hitting 70 percent of field goals on the season and all 22 extra points. His long for the season is only 40 yards, so the Illini will need to get deep into Nittany Lion territory to be considered in scoring position. Junior punter Justin DuVernois has been terrific this season, and can really blast one to flip the field position at the drop of a hat.

PREDICTION

PENN STATE-38 ILLINOIS-24

This game should be much more competitve than last season when the Illini could only muster seven points on the day. Illinois' offense will keep them in the game as the contest remains tight into the third quarter. The defense will rise up and make a few key stops in the second half, while Hackenberg stays on target to put the Nittany Lions ahead for good in the middle of the third quarter. Belton reaches the century mark and finds the end zone twice, while Allen Robinson tacks on an additional 160 yards receiving and another two scores. C.J. Olaniyan picks up where he left off against Michigan and contributes two sacks and a forced fumble, and Ryan Keiser steps in front of a Scheelhaase pass for an interception when the team needs it the most.

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