Penn State vs. Illinois Preview

Story posted October 31, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Maddie Brightman

The Nittany Lions (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten) will continue Big Ten play this weekend  as they return home to face the Fighting Illini (3-4, 0-3 Big Ten). Penn State and Bill O’Brien will look to bounce back from their desecrating 63-14 loss against the Buckeyes and to earn their second win against a conference opponent.

Alike the Nittany Lions, Illinois is coming off a painful 42-3 loss against Michigan State. Last weekend, both teams struggled to stop strong offenses and put up points against Big Ten opponents.

Penn State has the advantage this weekend with a 16-4 record in the overall series, and a strong history of winning after a loss while under Bill O’Brien. The Nittany Lions’ 35-7 win against Illinois last fall would mark Bill O’Brien’s first win on the road as head coach and would be a part of a five game winning-streak after starting the season 0-2.

The last time the Fighting Illini visited Beaver Stadium, Joe Paterno recorded his 409th win and surpassed Eddie Robinson as the winningest coach in college football. The Nittany Lions won the game 10-7 after former Penn State running back Silas Redd scored a three-yard touchdown in the final minute to give Penn State the lead.

Freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg experienced should pain last weekend against the Buckeyes, but is expected to start on Saturday. Hackenberg recorded his second lowest completion percentage (52.2) against Ohio State and threw for his fewest yards (112) this season. After throwing two interceptions and suffering shoulder pain, Bill O’Brien used back up quarterback Tyler Ferguson for the fourth time this season.

Hackenberg has shown great poise and potential as a true freshman quarterback and has been recognized as Big Ten Freshman of the Week multiple times this season. He has recorded twelve touchdowns and a 127.5 in passing efficiency.

The Fighting Illini will place experienced senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase on the field this weekend against the Nittany Lions. Scheelhasse is ranked 26th in the nation in passing efficiency (151.08) and 27th in completion percentage (65.8). He is fourth in the Big Ten with 235.6 passing yards per game and is tied with Hackenberg for twelve touchdowns this season. Scheelhasse is tied for eighth in the nation for recording five passing plays of 50 yards or more.

Penn State and Illinois are both stacked with strong running backs. Sophomore Illinois running back, Josh Ferguson, ranks second in the nation in receiving yards per game by a running back with an average of 51.6 yards. Ferguson ranks ninth in the Big Ten in all-purpose yards and has recorded 383 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the season. Penn State running backs, Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton surpass Ferguson with an average of 57.3 and 66.7 yards per game respectively. Combined, the two have recorded almost 900 yards this season and a total of eleven touchdowns. Ferguson, unlike Belton and Zwinak, poses as not only a running threat, but also a risk on the receiving end as well.

Scheelhaase will look to receiver Steve Hull (21.6) who is ranked in the top fifteen for most yards per reception. Hull has recorded 281 receiving yards but has only tallied one touchdown.

The Illini receivers can’t come close to matching, Penn State’s standout, Allen Robinson. Arguably one of the best receivers in college football, Robinson has recorded 878 yards this season. The superstar receiver has scored six touchdowns and averaged over 125 yards per game. The Nittany Lions will look to score with Robinson this weekend against an Illinois defense that will struggle to cover the standout receiver.

The Penn State defense has given up a total 147 points against Big Ten teams. If the Nittany Lions want to win this weekend and finish the remainder of the season strong, the defense needs to step up. The defense will look to make more tackles sooner and do a better job covering the corners. Penn State will rely on a strong performance from Glen Carson and DaQuan Jones.

The Illinois defense will rely on senior line backer, Jonathon Brown who leads the Big Ten and is ranked 10th nationally in tackles per game (10.9). The Fighting Illini have given up 137 points to Big Ten opponents, and in this regard are equally matched with the Nittany Lions.

The Fighting Illini have yet to win a conference game this year and are currently 0-2 on the road. Penn State could use these two things to their advantage to bounce back from a tough loss at the Horseshoe.

Both teams are similarly matched at the quarterback position and defense, but Penn State has the advantage with stronger receivers and running backs. win against Illinois could be a potential turning point in Big Ten Play for the Nittany Lions.

Penn State will take on Illinois at 12:00 p.m. this Saturday on ComRadio.

Maddie Brightman is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email mvb5601@psu.edu.