There wasn’t much offense in Happy Valley today, as the snow flew through much of the game between Illinois (6-3, 2-3 Big Ten) and No. 21 Penn State (8-1, 5-0 Big Ten).
The first half looked very similar to the last two games for Illinois. Their offense struggled to move the ball while their defense kept them in the game. The tough Penn State defense continually stopped Illinois for losses early in the game, bringing the Illini’s total yardage to negative five at the end of the first quarter.
Penn State failed to capitalize on their only real scoring opportunity of the first half when Anthony Fera missed a 43-yard field goal attempt.
Illinois had a chance to score late in the first half following a fumble by Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden, which the Illini recovered at the Penn State 25-yard line. Illinois was unable to take advantage of the good field position though. On 3rd-and-2 from the 4-yard line, the Illini were called for a false start, negating what appeared to be a Jason Ford touchdown.
The Fighting Illini were willing to settle for a 25-yard field goal, but holder Tim Russell bobbled the snap, and the Illini were unable to get the kick off. Russell threw the ball up for grabs, and it was intercepted by Penn State’s Sean Stanley.
The Fighting Illini came out in the third quarter and looked like a brand new team. After a crucial fourth-down stop, they opened things up offensively. That led to the first score of the game when QB Nathan Scheelhaase hit Spencer Harris for a 10-yard touchdown with 3:32 remaining in the third quarter.
Although Illinois outgained Penn State in the final quarter, it was the Nittany Lions that made the big plays when it counted.
A blocked punt on the Illinois 31 by Penn State’s Brad Bars led to a 30-yard field goal by Anthony Fera with 7:00 remaining in the game. Following the field goal, Penn State’s defense came up with a crucial stop to give their offense a chance to win the game with 3:05 remaining.
Penn State QB Matt McGloin had a tough going for most of the afternoon, but he shook it off and led the Penn State offense down the field.
After a fourth-down incompletion was negated by a pass interference call on Illinois, the Nittany Lions finally got into the end zone for the first and only time of the game when Silas Redd scored on a three-yard run. The extra point gave Penn State a 10-7 lead with only 1:08 remaining.
With Illinois’ drive starting with 1:01 left in the game, Nathan Scheelhaase led the Illini down to the Penn State 25-yard line, giving Illinois a chance to tie the game with five seconds remaining. Illinois came up just short though when Derek Dimke’s 42-yard field goal bounced off of the upright as time expired.
Illinois led Penn State in yardage (286-209) and first downs (16-14), but turnovers and penalties plagued the Illini.
Jason Ford led Illinois in rushing with 100 yards on 24 carries while Nathan Scheelhaase added 89 yards on 14 carries.
Scheelhaase finished the game 9-of-16 passing for 63 yards and a touchdown while freshman Riley O’Toole went 4-of-7 through the air for 31 yards and one interception.
The Fighting Illini has now lost three straight games and still has to play possibly the two toughest opponents on their schedule with Michigan and Wisconsin.
Illinois will take next week off before an always exciting Illinois-Michigan showdown in Champaign, IL, on November 12th.
The 10-7 victory gave coach Joe Paterno his 409th career win, breaking Eddie Robinson's all-time record for victories by a Division I coach.
Congratulations to a truely legendary coach.