Sports Network | October 6, 2010
FACTS & STATS: Site: Beaver Stadium (107,282) -- University Park, Pennsylvania. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: Illinois 2-1, Penn St. 3-0. Away Record: Illinois 0-0, Penn St. 0-2. Neutral Record: Illinois 0-1, Penn St. 0-0. Conference Record: Illinois 0-1, Penn St. 0-1. Series Record: Penn State leads, 14-3.
GAME NOTES: Two teams hoping to secure their first Big Ten Conference win of the season meet in Happy Valley on Saturday afternoon, as the Illinois Fighting Illini come calling on the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Illinois is an even 2-2 on the campaign, and is coming off a 24-13 loss at home to No. 2 Ohio State. The team's two losses this season, the other coming in the opener in St. Louis against Missouri, have come by a combined 21 points to teams that are a combined 9-0 to this point, and currently ranked in the Top-25.
Following this test, which is UI's first true road game of the season, coach Ron Zook's club will play at Michigan State before returning home for a pair against Indiana and Purdue.
Penn State is 3-2 on the year after dropping its league lidlifter last week at Iowa, 24-3. Although they are 3-0 at home, the Nittany Lions have scored a total of six points in road losses to ranked foes (Alabama and Iowa).
Led by legendary coach Joe Paterno, Penn State is 12-1 in games following a loss since the 2005 season -- 13-1 if you count the 2009 season opener against Akron. The Lions have won 36 of their last 40 home games.
Penn State has a commanding 14-3 lead in the all-time series with Illinois, having won the last two meetings. The Illini have never won on PSU's home field (0-6).
The Illini put up a fight, but in the end came up short in their upset bid of No. 2 Ohio State last Saturday. Illinois managed just 251 total yards, and RB Mikel Leshoure had his string of four straight 100-yard rushing games come to an end as he finished with 80 yards on 19 carries. As for QB Nathan Scheelhaase, he wound up going 12-of-22 for 109 yards with an INT, and Jarred Fayson led all receivers in the game with eight grabs for 83 yards.
Illinois, which averages 22.2 points and 332 total yards per game, is one of only five teams in the country to have scored on all of their trips to the red zone this season (12-of-12). With Leshoure leading the charge, the strength of the UI offense is its ability to hammer the ball at the opposition (201.5 rushing ypg), scoring seven of its 10 TDs on the ground.
Scheelhaase has completed 54.4 percent of his passes for just 122.2 ypg with three TDs against four INTs. Although he has yet to reach the end zone, Fayson has a team-high 16 catches, while A.J. Jenkins has amassed a club-best 206 receiving yards with a pair of scoring catches.
The Illinois defense performed admirably against the high-powered Buckeyes last week, yielding 290 total yards, of which only 77 came via the pass. Martez Wilson was the Illini's leading tackler for the second straight game, registering nine tackles, including two TFLs.
So far this season, UI's foes are averaging just 18 points and 322.2 total yards per clash. The opposition has scored just three rushing TDs.
Through the first four games, Wilson has notched a team-high 34 tackles, which includes a pair of sacks. Ian Thomas is hot on his heels with 31 stops, and he has a sack and fumble recovery to his credit as well. Trulon Henry has the team's only two INTs on the season.
Penn State freshman QB Rob Bolden threw for 212 yards with an INT in last week's 21-point loss at Iowa. The Lions finished with just 54 net rushing yards and tallied 301 total yards for the game. RB Evan Royster carried the ball just 10 times, finishing with 56 yards, while Devon Smith was the Lions' leading pass catcher with five grabs for 58 yards.
Iowa produced 349 yards, as both teams struggled to move the chains on third down, combining to go 5-of-23.
Royster, who is just 128 yards shy of becoming PSU's all-time leading rusher, averages 70.6 ypg and has scored just one TD this season. Bolden has surpassed 200 yards passing four times this year, but he has completed just 58.7 percent of his throws and has tossed twice as many INTs as TDs (6-3). Derek Moye is one of four Lions with double-digit receptions at the moment, coming into this game with 19 grabs for 271 yards.
While Penn State is averaging just 19.2 ppg, the opposition turns in a mere 15 ppg. Foes average only 290.4 ypg against the Nittany Lion defense, which boasts eight players with at least 20 tackles after five games. Chris Colasanti heads the unit with 41 stops, 10 more than his closest teammate, while Nick Sukay has three of the team's six INTs. The Lions average just over six TFLs per game.
As mentioned, Iowa didn't exactly dominate the game last week, but made enough plays on both sides of the ball to secure the win. PSU's D'Anton Lynn tied his career-high with nine tackles.
While the Illini are sure to put up a fight, expect the Nittany Lions to do enough in all phases of the game to get back on track. Penn State is awfully tough to beat at Beaver Stadium, and expect the blue and white to ride the emotion supplied by the frenzied hometown faithful to their first league win of the season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Penn State 24, Illinois 17
Saturday, October 9th, 12:00 p.m. (et).