Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Illinois Fighting Illini Complete Game Preview
The Penn State Nittany Lions will look to bounce back from the trouncing they took last week in Columbus when they host the Illinois Fighting Illini this Saturday.
Illinois is fresh off their own beating, following a 42-3 loss at home to Michigan State. The team has now lost three in a row and four of the last five. After starting the season 2-0, the Illini are now 3-4.
After head coach Tim Beckman infamously recruited Penn State players following the NCAA sanctions levied in 2012, the Illini have become an easy target for hate from Penn State fans.
Penn State beat Illinois last year in Champaign by a score of 35-7, and should be able to regain some confidence this weekend when Beckman's struggling offense comes to Happy Valley.
Time: 12:00 p.m. ET
Place: Beaver Stadium, State College, Pa.
Radio: Penn State Network Affiliates
Spread: Penn State is a 10-point favorite, per VegasInsider.com.
Penn State Keys to Victory
The Nittany Lions have struggled in 2013 with mobile quarterbacks, allowing 121 rushing yards to Michigan's Devin Gardner and 143 rushing yards to Ohio State's trio of quarterbacks.
Shockingly, Nathan Scheelhaase has just 71 rushing yards on the year, but anybody who has followed his career knows that he is capable of a big game at any time. Penn State needs to show that it can defend a dual-threat quarterback.
Run the Ball
In the last three games, Penn State has rushed for just 295 total yards, averaging only 2.34 yards per carry. The Nittany Lions need to get back on track this week against an Illini defense that has allowed at least 269 rushing yards in four of their last five games.
Don't Let Ohio State Beat You Twice
Following the 49-point beating in Columbus last week, head coach Bill O'Brien will need to rally the troops and get his team moving forward. Too many times, a loss like that can linger in a locker room and create a hangover into the next game.
Illinois Keys to Victory
Get Scheelhaase On the Move
The Illinois quarterback is having a stellar year throwing the ball. He is completing 65 percent of his passes and has thrown for over 240 yards on four occasions this year.
However, it could be his legs, rather than his arm that leads Illinois to victory on Saturday. Tim Beckman should look to get his senior quarterback outside of the pocket, giving him the option to pass or run, and exploit a Nittany Lions defense that has struggled against mobile quarterbacks.
Penn State got behind early in the game last week and never recovered on the scoreboard or from a mental standpoint. If the Illini can get on the board early and put pressure on Penn State, they might be able to get a mental advantage as well.
Penn State Players to Watch
LB Nyeem Wartman
The freshman linebacker has all the tools to be great but he needs to hone his instincts. He got caught in some bad spots against Ohio State and should learn a lot this week watching that film. The ceiling is high for Wartman but it's time to start seeing improvement.
RB Bill Belton
Belton is now the team leader in rushing and could be in for an increased workload after Zach Zwinak's fumble issues have made him a liability.
Belton's improvement since his freshman year has been stellar and he has become a good all-around back. The porous Illinois rushing defense could provide a breakout platform for Belton.
CB Adrian Amos
Amos started at corner last week after being moved to safety in the offseason and is slated to start there again on Saturday. Amos has had success at the position in the past, but it will be interesting to see if he can regain that form while transitioning midseason.
View the full Penn State depth chart here.
Illinois Players to Watch
RB Josh Ferguson
The Illini's sophomore running back leads the team in rushes, rushing yards, catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He averages 5.47 yards per carry and is clearly the biggest threat on the team.
QB Nathan Scheelhaase
Among Big Ten quarterbacks, Scheelhaase is second in completion percentage, fourth in yards and fifth in touchdowns. He has cut down on his turnovers, improved on his efficiency and is capable of making big plays at any time.
If he beings his A-game, he's as good as anybody in the conference. However, he hasn't thrown a touchdown in three weeks and threw for less than 140 yards in two of those games.
LB Jonathan Brown
The senior outside linebacker leads his team in tackles (76), tackles for loss (eight) and sacks (2.5). It will be interesting to see if Illinois uses him to get after Hackenberg or in coverage against the tight ends, where he is less effective.
View the full Illinois depth chart here.
What They Are Saying
O'Brien: "If [getting blown out by Ohio State] is the worst thing that ever happens to you in your life, than you're going to be okay."— Onward State (@OnwardState) October 29, 2013
"That's a bunch of crap that (Butler's) taking heat," O'Brien says, as his temperature rises while answering defensive question.— York Daily Record (@YDRPennState) October 29, 2013
Tim Beckman on getting to a bowl: "It's still achievable." #Illini— Steve Greenberg (@SLGreenberg) October 28, 2013
#Illinois may be one of the softest CFB teams in the nation. Penn State should be able to muscle them around this weekend.— RightSideValuePlays (@RightSideVP) October 29, 2013
Bill O'Brien just said of Beckman's #Illini: "Defensively, they’ve obviously done a great job of recruiting."— Steve Greenberg (@SLGreenberg) October 29, 2013
Illinois coach Tim Beckman:"I still think Penn State is Penn State. They’re very physical. They do what they do well,which they always have"— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) October 28, 2013
Illinois and Penn State lost by a combined score of 105-17 last weekend. Tickets are still available.— Tim Tolley (@TimTolley_BR) October 29, 2013
While this game doesn't pose huge implications on a national level, it means a lot to both teams in very different ways.
A Penn State win could ignite a three-game winning streak and secure a second straight winning season, while a loss would raise even more questions about the remaining schedule.
Illinois still has bowl aspirations, but a loss at Penn State would send them to 3-5 on the year and would make the road to six wins much more difficult.
Bill O'Brien is 5-1 following losses at Penn State and Illinois is in a full-fledged slump. Penn State has been at its best this year when it can get the ground game on track, and this matchup bodes well for Bill Belton, Akeel Lynch and maybe even Zach Zwinak, who rushed for 100 yards and a couple of touchdowns against Illinois last year.
Prediction: Penn State 34 - Illinois 23
All stats provided by CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.