2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 9 - Illinois at Penn State
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Oct. 29 at Penn State 10 … Illinois 7
CFN Analysis: The team just finds a way. The offense is sputtering, but the defense – led by 19 carries from Gerald Hodges - continues to be fantastic. The passing game stinks, but Silas Redd continues to be the best back in the Big Ten behind Wisconsin’s Montee Ball. Temple, Indiana, Iowa, Purdue; the Nittany Lions make a habit out of coming up with close wins by coming up with the big plays the other team doesn’t. It happened again, with the offense getting a generous pass interference call, and the defense getting a gift from the gods on the missed field goal that went off the upright. 8-1 is nice, but now comes the reality check with Nebraska, Ohio State, and Wisconsin, and 9-fo-28 passing isn’t going to get it done. Once again, the coaching staff tries to get Rob Bolden in, and once again, Matt McGloin looks better despite completing just 9-of-24 passes.
Now the breaks aren’t coming Illinois’ way. When Derek Dimke is hitting the upright on a game-tying field goal, things aren’t going well, but the team needs to start making its own breaks. All three games on the recent losing streak were winnable, but the offense can’t put points on the board. A.J. Jenkins was held in check, and while the running game was fine against the tremendous Nittany Lion defense, it didn’t get into the end zone and didn’t lead the way to enough points. The defense was outstanding, with Jonathan Brown coming up with another great game with 11 tackles, but it wasn’t enough. With 28 points in the last three games, it’s time to turn it on with Michigan and Wisconsin up next.
(AP) STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- In bright white letters against a blue background, the electronic sign boards around Beaver Stadium took note of another milestone for Joe Paterno long after the stands had cleared.
"Congratulations Coach Paterno," the signs read. "Winningest Coach In Division I College Football."
It took all 60 minutes on a snowy, sloppy Saturday in Happy Valley, but JoePa broke Eddie Robinson's record with victory No. 409 as No. 21 Penn State defeated Illinois 10-7.
The Nittany Lions (8-1, 5-0 Big Ten) overcame six fumbles -- losing two -- with Silas Redd's 3-yard touchdown run with 1:08 to go. Penn State's only touchdown came after Illinois corner Justin Green was whistled for pass interference while breaking up a fourth-down pass for Derek Moye in the end zone.
Illinois (6-3, 2-3) drove from its 17 to the Penn State 25 on the next drive, but Derek Dimke's 42-yard field goal attempt bounced off the right upright as time expired.
Even JoePa was nervous in the press box before Penn State's last drive. Paterno coached upstairs since he's still got a sore right leg, shoulder and pelvis following an accidental preseason hit.
"Did I have any doubts," he asked rhetorically with a chuckle. "Sure I had doubts ... but it worked out anyway."
In a common occurrence over his remarkable 46-year career, Paterno was feted again with a postgame ceremony. School president Graham Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley presented JoePa with a plaque that read, "Joe Paterno. Educator of Men. Winningest Coaach. Division One Football."
Among all coaches, Paterno now only trails John Gagliardi, still active at Division III St. John's, Minn., with 481 victories.
"It really is something I've very proud of, to be associated with Eddie Robinson," Paterno said in a brief postgame ceremony in the media room broadcast to fans still waiting in the stands 10 minutes later. "Something like this means a lot to me, an awful lot. But there's a lot of other people I've got to thank."
Start with Redd, the budding star who had a career-high 30 carries for 137 yards for Penn State, none bigger than his late TD run.
An early-season snowstorm had fans bundled up in winter parkas and hoodies. The offenses seemed to be frozen stiff.
After struggling most of the afternoon, quarterback Matt McGloin drove Penn State from their own 20 to the Illini 32 on three long completions before the pass interference call gave the Nittany Lions a second chance.
"I thought it was a good play myself," frustrated Illini coach Ron Zook said. "But obviously (the referee) thought ... I don't know, I didn't ask him."
Redd capitalized four plays later by barreling into the end zone, the crowd erupting in delight.
Jason Ford rushed for 100 yards on 24 carries but Illinois couldn't capitalize on a slew of Penn State mistakes in a defensive slugfest.
Illlinois outgained Penn State 286-209. After a quiet start, Illinois' pass rush turned up the heat in the second half, getting 2.5 sacks combined from standout ends Michael Buchanan and Whitney Mercilus.
Still, the Illini's offense wasn't much better than Penn State, but they got just got enough in the third quarter from scrambling quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase to scratch out a 10-yard touchdown pass to Spencer Harris for a 7-0 lead.
Illinois' defense held firm from there until Penn State's late TD drive.
Moye, back after missing two games because of a left foot injury, dropped a third-down pass to groans from the crowd on the winning drive. McGloin went for Moye on fourth down with 1:31 left, and the ball bounced off the receiver's hands in the end zone -- but there was contact and the interference penalty gave Penn State another chance.
Zook could only wince on the sideline as a once-quiet Penn State crowd burst back to life.
"They were just able to find their receivers. They weren't able to do that all game, we pretty much got them all game," Buchanan said. "As a D-line, we weren't able to get pressure on the quarterback that we wanted to. So it was pretty much on us."
Illinois' struggling offense couldn't get untracked again early, going scoreless in the first half for a third straight game. They wasted opportunities deep in Penn State territory following fumbles by Redd at his own 37 in the first half, and quarterback Rob Bolden at the 29 late in the second half.
On that drive, Illinois receiver Ryan Lankford made a pretty tiptoe catch along the sideline from backup quarterback Riley O'Toole for a 12-yard gain to the 12. The play was upheld by replay -- and fans in the student section showed their displeasure by tossing snowballs on the field.
The snowballs missed the players -- much like most of the passes Saturday. McGloin was 9 of 24 for 98 yards, while Bolden missed all four of his pass attempts, all in the second quarter.
Scheelhaase finished 9 of 16 for 63 yards, and ran 14 times for 89 yards.
After the game, Paterno had one last message to the frigid fans outside before they headed to the exits in relief.
"For all the fans out there, thanks for sitting through that today," Paterno said half-jokingly, "You've got to be nuts!"
Illinois (6-2) at Penn State (7-1) Oct. 29, 3:30, ABC/ESPN2/ESPN3
Here’s The Deal … There’s the Illinois we all know and love.
It’s just so … so … Illinois to start out a season hot, lose to Ohio State despite allowing one completed pass, and then go into the tank with a lifeless performance, at least in the first half, against a mediocre team like Purdue.
And it would be just so … so … Illinois to come back and screw up Penn State’s terrific run.
Penn State finally got a little bit of a passing game in last week’s win over Northwestern, but while Matt McGloin and the air attack are pedestrian, at best, the running of Silas Redd and the play of the stellar defense have led the way to a six-game winning streak and a spot on top of the Leaders division. But now it’s time to finally start playing someone.
Oh sure, the win over Iowa was nice, and winning in Evanston isn’t without its charm, but a relatively easy Big Ten slate so far now takes a 180-degree turn with Illinois the easiest game left. After this, Penn State gets Nebraska before finishing up on the road at Ohio State and Wisconsin. No, the team isn’t good enough to run the table, but it’s good enough to come up with just enough wins in the final month to take the division title. That will only happen with a win this week to avenge last year’s stunning 33-13 home loss to the Illini.
Illinois is only 4-14 in the series, going back to the first loss in 1954, but this is a dangerous enough team on both sides of the ball to make it two straight in the series. The pass rush is tremendous, the defense is ranked tenth in the nation, and the offense is potent and explosive. At least it was a few weeks ago, and after scoring just 21 points in the last two games, and with Michigan and Wisconsin ahead, the time is now to stop the slide or things could turn really ugly, really fast.
Why Illinois Might Win: Penn State has done a phenomenal job in pas protection, but it’s only faced one team – not Alabama, Temple – with a high-end pass rush. The Owls didn’t do much to get into the backfield, but they were just disruptive enough to keep the middling attack under wraps. Illinois is coming off its worst pass rushing performance of the season, generating just one sack against Purdue, and that won’t happen again.
The Illini came up with four sacks against an Ohio State passing game that attempted four passes. It generated five against Indiana and six against Arizona State, and while it’s not going to come up with a slew of sacks against the Nittany Lion offensive front, it’ll generate pressure. ANY disruption against the Penn State passers – a slight breeze, a crying baby, a day that ends in a Y – throws off the attack. Partly because of the pressure, the secondary has come up with a terrific year so far, and it should be able to keep the Derek Moye-less Penn State receiving corps under wraps.
Why Penn State Might Win: Purdue was able to keep the Illinois offense from doing much of anything by containing Nathan Scheelhaase. Much like Michigan State was able to do with Denard Robinson, the Boilermakers brought the pressure from the outside and got containment in the middle. Penn State can do the same thing with a good rush from the edges and a terrific interior that can top things up. Scheelhaase is a better pure passer than Robinson, but he’s far less effective it he’s kept in the pocket.
The Illini defense is good statistically against the run, mostly due to all the plays behind the line, but no one has lined up and slammed the ball against the front seven except Ohio State, and Dan Herron ran for 114 yards as part of a ground game that rolled for 211 yards and a score. Penn State’s offensive line has to turn into Wisconsin and has to try beating up the Illini front wall from the start. Establishing a tenor right away will be a must to allow the inconsistent passing game time to work. It also helps the Penn State cause that …
What To Watch Out For: Silas Redd, if the season ended right now, might be the Big Ten Player of the Year. The sophomore has carried the Penn State season, stepping up his play just when the team needed him the most with four straight 100-yard games and 164 yards and a score in last week’s win over Northwestern. Fast, quick, and productive whenever he gets the ball in his hands, he’s able to make things happen even though everyone is focused on stopping him, and against an aggressive and athletic Illinois defensive front, it’s a huge plus that he doesn’t get dropped for losses.
Illinois doesn’t have a Redd to rely on, going with a running back by committee approach and waiting for Scheelhaase to take off, but it would be nice if Jason Ford could take the reins. He hasn’t taken advantage of his opportunities, running for just 58 yards on 21 carries against Arizona State and running for 86 yards on 22 carries against Arkansas State, and while he’s getting work, he’s still not taking off for big yards. However, he came up with his best game of the year averaging 8.3 yards per carry against Purdue, and while he’s not going to hit any home runs against Penn State, he needs to keep being fed the ball.
What Will Happen: The slide will continue as Illinois will continue to sink as it plays another defense with some teeth. The Penn State formula will keep on working, bottling up Scheelhaase, getting good play from the running game, and doing just enough in key moments to get by. It’ll be a tight game, though, but the Nittany Lion special teams will be far better, and that’ll be enough to make it six straight wins with two weeks off to prepare for Nebraska.
CFN Prediction: Penn State 23 … Illinois 17
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Penn State -5 O/U: 40.5
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