Eastern Illinois (4-1) at (14) Penn State (4-1)
Saturday, October 10th, 12:00 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 14th-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions step out of conference for the final time this season, as they welcome the Panthers of Eastern Illinois to Happy Valley.
Eastern Illinois, which plays its football out of the Ohio Valley Conference at the Football Championship Subdivision, is coming off its first loss of the season -- a 36-31 setback to visiting Eastern Kentucky. The Panthers had won their first four games, and enter this clash ranked 25th in the most recent Sports Network FCS Top-25 Poll.
EIU is coached by Bob Spoo, who owns a 136-110-1 record in 22 years at the school. The Panthers are 4-21 all-time against teams that make up the Football Bowl Subdivision, and their last win over a FBS foe came against Eastern Michigan in 2004.
Penn State bounced back from its first loss of the season (21-10 vs. Iowa) by running past Illinois in Champaign last Saturday, 35-17. The win evened the Lions' Big Ten Conference mark at 1-1 and moved their overall record to 4-1.
PSU is 59-12 against non-conference foes since joining the Big Ten in 1993, and EIU is the Lions' first opponent from the OVC as the two teams square off for the first time ever.
The Eastern Illinois offense utilizes a balanced attack that generates 152.2 ypg on the ground and 219.4 ypg through the air. QB Jake Christensen is actually making his second appearance at Beaver Stadium after beginning his collegiate career at Iowa. Christensen, who threw for 146 yards and a TD in his only previous start against Penn State, is completing 65.4 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,090 yards, 11 TDs and only three INTs this season. A total of four different pass catchers have logged double-digit receptions to this point in the campaign, with former Michigan Wolverine Jimmy Potempa leading the way with his 20 grabs for 122 yards and a TD.
Mon Williams, a transfer from Florida, spearheads the EIU run game, averaging 88.2 ypg and scoring all six of the team's rushing TDs. Chevon Walker, another former Gator, and Potempa have made the most of their [limited] totes out of the backfield, averaging 6.1 and 5.8 ypc, respectively.
The Panthers have been particularly effective on third down, moving the chains 52 percent of the time. The one area coach Spoo would like to see improve is in protecting the football as EIU ball carriers have fumbled 13 times in five games, 10 of them winding up in the arms of the opposition.
Christensen, who ranks 16th among all FCS QBs in passing yardage and seventh in TD tosses, threw for 294 yards with three TDs and two picks last week in the five-point loss to Eastern Kentucky, and he was sacked six times for a loss of 29 yards. Williams gained 77 yards and scored a TD, but the Panthers were credited with just 44 net rushing yards on the day. Add three lost fumbles, just two trips to the red zone, only one of which resulted in points, and 70 yards lost due to penalties and it's no wonder Eastern Illinois suffered its first setback of the season.
Defensively, the Panthers have been solid in allowing just 15.2 ppg this year. Their effort against the run has been particularly impressive with foes averaging a mere 94 ypg and only 2.7 ypc. The pass defense yields 171.4 ypg and only four of the opposition's 10 TDs have come through the air. The Panthers have proven to be an opportunistic bunch as well, coming up with 12 turnovers in addition to logging 38 TFLs, including 14 sacks.
Cory Leman has been the most active EIU defender, making 47 stops in five games, which is 23 more than his closest teammate. CJ James has a pair of INTs and Perry Burge has three sacks for the Panthers.
Eastern Kentucky earned 25 first downs last weekend, gaining 416 yards of total offense in the process. The Colonels turned the ball over four times, but held a near 10-minute advantage in time of possession, converted 10-of-16 third down attempts and reached the red zone six times (three scores). Leman led the EIU defense with nine tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. The Panthers recorded five sacks as part of 13 TFLs on the day.
Like their counterpart in this matchup, the Nittany Lions typically establish their offensive will by attacking in near equal parts with both the run (169.4 ypg) and the pass (233.0 ypg). Senior QB Daryll Clark is a 61 percent passer who has thrown for 1,133 yards, nine TDs and six INTs this season. He is also dangerous when he decides to tuck the ball away and run with it, gaining 100 yards and scoring twice while averaging 4.3 ypc. The leading receiver for PSU is Derek Moye with his 19 grabs for 309 yards and two scores, while three others also have double-digit catches.
As for the Nittany Lion ground game, Evan Royster has shown the ability to be the team's workhorse, rushing for 410 yards and four TDs in averaging better than five ypc.
In last week's game at Illinois, the Penn State offense was sluggish to start, but in the second half really turned it on and wound up with an eye-popping 338 rushing yards and five TDs. Stephfon Green and Royster both went over 100 yards in the game, tallying 120 and 105 yards, respectively, and each scored a TD. Clark rushed for 83 yards and two scores, while throwing for 175 yards on 17-of-25 passing.
Clark pointed out the primary difference between the loss to Iowa and the win over Illinois. "We were able to execute and convert on some third downs, and it allowed us to relax and just go out and play." He continued, "I was very proud of everybody for putting the loss that we had last week behind us as quickly as we did. This was definitely a must-win for us, especially going on the road, after having what happened to us last week."
Coach Joe Paterno praised his team's ability to run the ball against the Illini. "Obviously I was pleased, but I wish we could be more consistent at times. Earlier in the year we would do things well for a half, but this time we ran the ball fairly well the whole ball game. I was glad to see it."
The Penn State defense, which has yet to give up a TD in the first half this season, permitted 393 total yards (130 rushing, 263 passing), came up with two turnovers and collected three sacks in the win over the Fighting Illini. Josh Hull led the PSU defensive charge with 11 tackles, while the team as a whole made seven stops behind the line of scrimmage. It was Hull's fourth straight double-digit tackling effort of the season.
The Nittany Lions are giving up just 11.6 ppg this year, behind only 86.4 ypg on the ground and 179.2 ypg through the air. The opposition has scored only five TDs in five games and has converted just 32 percent of their third down tries. PSU defenders have made 15 sacks as part of 43 TFLs.
Hull is far and away the most productive defensive player for coach Paterno's team, logging 52 total tackles, while fellow LB Sean Lee has 32 stops to his credit. The two have combined for 12 TFLs and three sacks.
Eastern Illinois will be playing in front of its largest crowd ever, and while there are likely to be some nerves, the Panthers will surely play hard. That said, Penn State is clearly the superior team here and it shouldn't take long for the Lions to establish their dominance.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Penn State 49, Eastern Illinois 14
10/07 10:32:34 ET