Penn State (2-2) at Illinois (2-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 29, 12:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Memorial Stadium (60,670) -- Champaign, Illinois. Television: ESPN. Home Record: PSU 2-1, UI 2-1. Away Record: PSU 0-1, UI 0-1. Neutral Record: PSU 0-0, UI 0-0. Conference Record: PSU 0-0, UI 0-0. Series Record: Penn State leads, 15-4.
GAME NOTES: Big Ten Conference action gets underway for a pair of 2-2 teams this Saturday, as the Penn State Nittany Lions pay a visit to the Illinois Fighting Illini.
Penn State started the season at 0-2, but has rebounded to even its record by logging wins over Navy and Temple, both at home, in the last two weeks. Last Saturday's 24-13 victory over the Owls was the Lions' 31st in 35 all-time meetings between the two Keystone State schools.
Bill O'Brien had the unenviable task of not only following a legend in former PSU head coach Joe Paterno, but also taking over a program that has been beset by unprecedented NCAA sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal.
Illinois has a new coach as well, as former Toledo head man Tim Beckman replaced the fired Ron Zook, and the team has alternated wins and losses in its first four games. The Illini are coming off a 52-24 home loss to Louisiana Tech, and this bout marks the third straight and fourth of the season already the team has played in front of the hometown faithful.
Not that any extra motivation is needed considering this in the conference opener, but the Nittany Lions may have a little more juice than usual as Beckman apparently was the only Big Ten coach to actively recruit any Penn State player that was considering a transfer after the NCAA sanctions were announced this past summer. Many on PSU's roster took exception to that, thus providing them with some added incentive to perform as well as possible this weekend.
Penn State has dominated the series with Illinois, winning 15 of the previous 19 meetings. The Lions, who claimed a hard-fought 10-7 win in last year's - clash at home, own a 7-3 mark all-time in Champaign.
Last year's meeting marked the final game coached by Paterno.
Matt McGloin threw for a career-high 318 yards and a TD, while adding a pair of rushing scores in leading the Nittany Lions to an 11-point win over the visiting Temple Owls last Saturday. WR Allen Robinson had another solid outing as he finished with five grabs for 82 yards and a score, and TE Kyle Carter got in on the act as well, hauling in five balls for 70 yards. RBs Zach Zwinak and Michael Zordich both had career days, rushing for 94 and 75 yards, respectively.
McGloin has thrown for a little more than 1,000 yards this season, with nine TDs against only two INTs, and Robinson is clearly his go-to guy as evidenced by his team-high 29 receptions for 404 yards and five scores. Zordich (33.2 ypg) is the team's leading rusher, but McGloin has the only two rushing TDs of the season.
The Owls proved to be rather inept passing the ball last week, tallying a mere 124 yards, and Temple did not score its lone TD of the game until the 1:33 mark of the fourth quarter. LB Michael Mauti led the PSU defense with nine tackles, giving him a team-high 42 on the year. The Lions recorded three sacks against the Owls, and they have taken down the opposing QB behind the line of scrimmage a total of 11 times in the first four games.
The PSU defense has yet to allow a point in the first quarter thus far, and in fact, foes have scored a total of only nine points in the first half. As a result, the Lions come in with an average yield of 15.2 ppg, with the enemy amassing 355.5 ypg (143.8 ypg rushing, 211.8 ypg passing).
Turnovers cost the Fighting Illini dearly in last week's lopsided loss to Louisiana Tech, as they coughed the ball up six times. Illinois lost five fumbles on the day, and when it did hold on to the ball, averaged just 4.2 yards per offensive play. Quarterbacks Reilly O'Toole and Nathan Scheelhaase both saw time in the contest, with the former completing 19-of-25 passes for 120 yards, and the latter 8-of-11 for 85 yards and a TD. O'Toole was sacked four times. RB Josh Ferguson caught 10 balls for 84 yards, and the UI run game was paced by Donovonn Young who logged 78 yards and a score on 19 carries.
For the season, O'Toole has taken more snaps and has completed 78.1 percent of his passes for 514 yards, six TDs and two INTs, while Scheelhaase has battled injury to hit 65.5 percent of his throws for 211 yards with two TDs and two picks. Ryan Lankford (16 receptions, 243 yards, four TDs) is one of three players with double-digit catches to this point in the campaign, and Ferguson and Young sit one-two on the rushing list with a combined 325 yards and two TDs. The offensive line has surrendered 13 sacks.
The Illinois defense pounced on three fumbles in its more than 23 minutes of action last weekend against LaTech, and the unit did a nice job in holding the Bulldogs to 3-of-11 on third-down conversion attempts. Unfortunately, the visitors scored three TDs in the first quarter to set the tone early.
The Illini are averaging roughly the same number of points as they allow this season (26.5 ppg-26.0 ppg), and foes have used the pass (224.0 ypg, eight TDs) to do the bulk of their damage. Still, the defense has come up with 10 turnovers, but has just six sacks. LB Jonathan Brown paces the unit with 26 tackles, five of which have been for negative yardage.
Penn State is probably better than its mediocre record suggests, while the same can't necessarily be said about Illinois. Still, any time Big Ten foes face each other its bound to be a battle so expecting anything less in this one would be a mistake. The Illini have the benefit of playing at home, but the Nittany Lions have some extra fuel for the fire based on UI's summer antics.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Penn State 24, Illinois 14
09/26 10:33:07 ET