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Penn State-Illinois Game Preview

Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State hopes to extend its win streak to three while eliminating Illinois from bowl eligibility in the penultimate game of the regular season.

Penn State (6-4, 2-4) vs. Illinois (4-6, 1-5)

Kickoff: Noon, Memorial Stadium, Champaign, IL

The Line: Penn State -6.5

TV: ESPN2 Bob Wischusen (play-by-play), Matt Millen (analyst) Quint Kessenich (sideline)

Weather: Temperatures in the mid-40s with a strong possibility of showers throughout the afternoon.


James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 6-4, 1st Year

OVERALL RECORD: 30-19, 4th Year


Tim Beckman:

ILLINOIS RECORD: 10-24, 3rd Year

OVERALL RECORD: 31-40, 6th Year



Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt returned to lead the Illini offense last week  after missing the previous three games with a broken leg. The Illini offense is clearly much better with Lunt under center, although he is coming off his worst game of the season
in a 30-14 loss to Iowa and may still be shaking off rust after missing four of five games with injuries. Lunt knows how to limit mistakes, throwing for 14 touchdown passes in 2014 compared with just three interceptions, so don't expect a repeat of last week when Penn State's secondary combined for four interceptions in the victory against Temple. Lunt is a pure drop back quarterback, as evidenced by the fact he has yet to exit a game this season with positive rushing yardage. If Penn State can manage consistent pressure, it will go a long ways towards shutting down the Illini offense.

If Lunt does have time in the pocket, he'll have a few talented options to connect with. Freshman Mike Dudek has the makings of a star, hauling in 51 receptions for 787 yards and five scores on the season. Junior Geronimo Allison (yes, real name) is another reliable target and junior running back Josh Ferguson can do some damage out of the backfield. While Ferguson isn't having nearly the season of many of his Big Ten counterparts at running back, his ability to contribute equally on the ground and in the aerial attack make him a match-up problem for opposing defenses.

Illinois will likely need rely on the passing game to move the ball against Penn State, and Lunt and company will provide an excellent test for this secondary that is short on experience but rich with talent.

The biggest question heading into this game is if Penn State's rushing attack has finally turned a corner, or if last week was just another inflated performance against a non-power five opponent. We'll find out soon enough as Illinois is among the worst run defenses in the nation. Guard Miles Dieffenbach should be closer to full strength and Akeel Lynch seems to have finally become the primary running back. Look for Penn State to test the left side of the line to see if they can move the chains and finally eat up some clock and give the defense some much needed rest with an improved running game.

Illinois isn't much better at stopping the pass, giving up an average of 226 yards per game through the air. Don't expect any fireworks from the Penn State offense, but they should be able to sustain more drives this week with a balanced attack.

Illinois linebacker Mason Monheim is a tackling machine, ranking only behind Mike Hull in total tackles as he averages just under 10 stops per contest. He's also adept at creating big plays, forcing three fumbles and totaling 6.5 tackles for loss on the season.

Illinois may have the worst kicking game in the nation. The Illini rely on two kickers, who are both one of three on the season. The two successful attempts were from 19 and 25 yards, so don't expect a barrage of field goals on Saturday. With the lack of success from the placekickers, Illinois has a surprisingly excellent punter in Justin DuVernois. The senior is averaging 44.9 yards per punt, and regularly switches field position. It's not uncommon for him to blast 60-plus yard punts, and even has punts of 72 and 74 yards this season. In a low scoring contest, DuVernois gives the Illini a huge advantage.

The Illini return units have failed to make much of an impact, and Penn State's reliable cover units should have no problem limiting return yards on Saturday.


Considering that Illinois has lost four of five and six of eight with a porous defense and a slumping offense, I'd love to predict a big win for Penn State. However, I don't think you can blame me for being a bit leery with the Nittany Lions oft-dysfunctional offense. I do expect them to be more consistent and be able to move the ball, but to expect them to light up the Illinois defense like other opponents have this fall may be a bit too much to ask.

Lynch and Belton combine for 150 yards on the ground and both touchdowns, while Mike Hull channels his inner-Mauti while collecting 15 tackles along with a sack and fumble recovery as Penn State makes it to victory number seven.