Posted on: March 5, 2012 12:42 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Illinois.
Spring Practice Starts: Wednesday, March 7
Spring Game: Saturday, April 14
Returning Starters: Six on offense, seven on defense, one specialist
Three Things To Watch For:
1. A brand new coaching staff. Ron Zook and just about his entire coaching staff is gone (defensive line coach Keith Gilmore returns) and Tim Beckman is now the man in charge of Illinois football. Which means that not only will spring practice be the first chance for Beckman and his coaching staff to see his new team at work, but also the time to begin implementing a new system on both sides of the ball. There's no way the team will learn everything over the course of a few weeks, but the process begins now.
2. The quarterback battle. Odds are Illinois won't know who its starting quarterback is until the end of the summer, but the battle will begin this spring. Nathan Scheelhaase has been the starter the last two seasons, but he regressed a bit in 2011, and now that there's a new playbook, he isn't guaranteed to retain his starting job. Scheelhaase will be competing with Reilly O'Toole for the job, though if Tim Beckman's time at Toledo teaches us anything, it's that he's not afraid to go with two quarterbacks if needed.
3. The Star Position. Tim Beckman brought in Tim Banks as his defensive coordinator, and Illinois will be running a 4-2-5 defense that includes the "Star" position. Which is a hybrid of a linebacker and a safety. It'll be an interesting battle to see who claims the position, though outside linebacker Ashante Williams is probably the favorite. Williams may get some competition from safety Supo Sanni and incoming freshman TaJarvis Fuller, a playmaker out of Florida. Those two would be well-served to make an early impression over the next few weeks.
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Posted on: December 31, 2011 7:13 pm
Edited on: December 31, 2011 7:13 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
ILLINOIS WON. There was not a lot of offense in this game, nor were there a lot of spectacular plays, but Illinois rode the strength of an outstanding defense to put an end to its six-game losing streak. With running back Jason Ford missing the game for Illinois, the Illini put the ball in Nathan Scheelhaase's hands and relied on him to do all the work on the offensive side of the ball.
Scheelhaase finished the day with 249 yards of total offense and hit A.J. Jenkins for a 60-yard score in the fourth quarter to ice it. Still, the true star of the day was the Illinois defense, particularly defensive end Whitney Mercilus. Mercilus lived up to his name, terrorizing Kevin Prince and the UCLA offense all day as the Bruins only managed 220 yards of offense in the game, with 38 of those yards coming on a touchdown pass in the final minute of the game after this one was essentially over.
WHY ILLINOIS WON. Defense, defense, defense, a little more defense, and then some defense. Illinois' offense only managed one touchdown and two field goals in the game, as cornerback Terry Hawthorne provided the other 7 Illini points with a pick-six in the third quarter that turned the tide of this game.
WHEN ILLINOIS WON. When Scheelhaase hit Jenkins for the 60-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter with 5:36 left on the clock to make it 20-7, there wasn't much reason to believe UCLA could overcome a two-score deficit given how this game was going.
WHAT ILLINOIS WON. For the first time in school history, Illinois won consecutive bowl games in back-to-back seasons. Which is about as much as the Illini could hope for considering how the season started and the firing of head coach Ron Zook.
WHAT UCLA LOST. UCLA lost a game, but it also won the end of a 2011 season that did not feature a lot of highlights and saw Rick Neuheisel get fired. The Bruins can now move forward to what they hope will be a much brighter 2012.
BOWL GRADE: F. I'm sorry, I went into this game with the absolute lowest of expectations. Both teams were under interim coaching staffs that won't be returning next season, and neither team had a winning record coming in. Illinois had lost six straight and UCLA was just as big of a mess. You would think those low expectations would only leave me pleasantly surprised by what took place in this game, but I wasn't. It was exactly what I expected it to be, and it was incredibly boring. It may as well have been called the Fight Narcolepsy Bowl. That said, I have to give the players credit. They may not have played well, but they showed up and played. Nobody was just going through the motions, but that being said, this was still a very boring game.
Posted on: December 28, 2011 8:44 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
UCLA WILL WIN IF: The defense has to step up and get some stops. The Bruins defense looked better in the Pac-12 Championship game than they did in the regular season finale but still gave up nearly half a hundred. The secondary is young but has come along late in the season and should be healthier than they were at the end of the year. Both lines need for a few players to step up and become solid contributors this game, especially along the disappointing defensive line that was among the country's worst at getting into the backfield. The offense should be solid but if UCLA wants to get back to .500 for the season, they're going to need the defense to play the best they have since the Colorado game in mid-November.
ILLINOIS WILL WIN IF: The Illini have a pretty solid defense that has surprised some folks this season so it's up to the offense to use the extra time off before the game to get things going again. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino has already left the team and that might be a good thing considering the team averaged just 11 points per game in their six game losing streak to end the season. Luckily their weakness (the offensive line) is matched up against the Bruins' weakness (the front seven - without middle linebacker Patrick Larimore) so it's likely quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase could have some time to make some plays. You can probably put All-American defensive end Whitney Mercilus down for a big game against the UCLA line he'll be facing.
X-FACTOR: Does anybody really want to be here? That seems to be the biggest question surrounding the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl given that two interim head coaches will be leading two teams that ended the year by falling flat on their faces. Illinois, sans Ron Zook, lost six straight games and you would figure that they want to get that taste out of their mouths. UCLA was thumped in their final two games to become the first team to make a bowl game at 6-7 and has several players who didn't make the trip up to the Bay Area due to a variety of reasons. Needless to say, motivation will be an issue in this one.
Posted on: November 27, 2011 3:47 am
Edited on: November 27, 2011 6:19 am
A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.
The two heart-breaking losses Wisconsin absorbed in the middle of what was supposed to be a special season have never really let the Badgers go. Oh, the Badgers got over them, to be sure; they won their next four Big Ten games by an average score of 44-14, and of those only the 28-17 win over Illinois was even halfway competitive. And yet, Wisconsin has struggled in vain to so much as crack the Top 15 of the polls, as its only win against a ranked opponent all year was a 48-17 dismantling of then-No. 8 Nebraska in Week 5. That's it.
Ron Zook's Illinois squad just put the finishing touches on a 6-6 campaign, one that would probably be a little more palatable if it hadn't finished in six straight losses where a formerly formidable offense just plain cratered. The last effort that'll likely be on Ron Zook's resume is a 27-7 throttling at the hands of a Minnesota program that hadn't beaten a Big Ten opponent by that many points since it beat Indiana 63-26... in 2006, when Glen Mason was still at the helm. We'll have more on the Gopher revival in a bit, but suffice it to say that Zook is going to be fired very, very soon.
There's no up side for this Illinois team's collapse. Nathan Scheelhaase has gone from a future first-team All-Big Ten quarterback to a potential second-team quarterback for the Illini in 2012. A.J. Jenkins scored zero touchdowns in the last six games after a scintillating first half of the season. The Illinois rush defense -- ranked second in the Big Ten -- ceded 248 yards to Minnesota, which was a season high for the Gophers. Whitney Mercilus was a terror all year long, racking up 9.5 sacks and nine forced fumbles, but now there's almost no chance he'll be back in 2012. So what is there to look forward to with this team in 2012 regardless of who's coach? And the fact that such a question is being asked in a coach's seventh year in a program probably means he won't be around for an eighth.
WINNER: Michigan Men (even when they're not)
Much was made about Brady Hoke's ties to the Michigan program when he was hired after the 2010 season, with the phrase "Michigan Man" bandied about liberally. And to be sure, that's exactly what Hoke is -- right down to his insistence on calling Ohio State "Ohio" and never wearing red.
But when it came to hiring coordinators, Hoke wasn't dumb enough to limit himself to fellow Michigan Men. Offensive coordinator Al Borges is, if anything, a "Chico State Man," graduating from there in 1981 and spending the next 30 years bouncing around various schools as offensive coordinator (usually on the west coast, and never at Michigan). Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison spent five years at Michigan back in the '90s, sure, but he also spent more time than that at Notre Dame. -- and did so more recently than his first Michigan stint. Is Mattison a Michigan Man? A Notre Dame Man? Both? He couldn't be both, could he? Anyway, all told, only three of Hoke's nine assistants have any prior ties to the program.
And yet, the difference in quality between last year's team and this year's is inestimable. The Michigan defense has gone from putrid to passable in just one season, and while it's not a championship-caliber unit just yet, it is good enough to get the Wolverines to 10-2 in the regular season and in immediate division contention -- back where the Big Ten figured Michigan would be when these division lines were drawn in the first place. And oh yes, there is that 40-34 victory over Ohio State that the Wolverines clawed for this year, their first over OSU in almost a decade.
LOSER: Will Hagerup
Welp, guess I'm just gonna punt this here ball away, just gonna do my job as punteWHAT AWWW HAMBURGERS OHHHHH NOOOOO
WINNER: Montee Ball's Heisman campaign
Montee Ball's probably not going to win the Heisman this year. That honor will probably go to someone in the trio of Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, or Trent Richardson. But at the very least, Ball probably bought* himself a ticket today with a 156-yard, four touchdown effort that pushed his season numbers to 248 carries, 1622 yards, 29 rushing touchdowns, 17 catches, 248 receiving yards, and five more receiving touchdowns. He also threw a 25-yard touchdown to Russell Wilson against Indiana (which doesn't count for Ball in total touchdowns, only Wilson), a sure sign that offensive coordinator Paul Chryst was very bored that day.
So that makes 34 total touchdowns on the season for Ball, a mark that only Barry Sanders has bested with his other-worldly 39 scores in 1988 (which doesn't even count his five touchdowns in the Holiday Bowl, as bowl games weren't counted in official statistics back then). And Ball isn't just pushing scores in from a yard out, either; nine of his 25 rushing touchdowns have come from more than five yards out, and his 6.75-yard rushing average was fourth in the FBS among 1000-yard rushers coming into Saturday's action. Ball isn't a touchdown machine, he's an everything machine, and now that it's been him front and center in Wisconsin's push to Indianapolis, voters are likely to take notice.
*Metaphorically speaking, NCAA! We never meant to imply that Ball or anybody around him has ever so much has handled a dollar bill. We understand that the sanctity of this game can only be achieved if everybody involved is dead broke and rejects capitalism outright, and we assure you that Ball has not been tainted by the immoral slime of legal tender. They're student-athletes, not money-recipient-athletes. We get it.
LOSER: The "Heroes Game"
What seemed like an intriguing new rivalry -- Iowa vs. Nebraska, every year, with the Missouri River set to be the most hotly contested border waterway since the Rhine. Whereas the French had the mighty but tragically immobile Maginot Line to protect themselves, though, Iowa's line just plain couldn't stop anyone coming right up the middle, either on Saturday or all year long. Rex Burkhead set a Nebraska record with 38 carries, and his 160 yards and a touchdown wore down the Iowa defense to the point of surrender. 20-7 was the final, and it really wasn't that close.
Next year's game might be more competitive simply because it's in Iowa City, but the 2012 Hawkeyes probably won't be any better than this year's iteration, and if this rivalry starts off lopsided it'll be hard to get the fanbases worked into the lather necessary for a lasting rivalry. Nebraska's never going to get tired of 13-point wins that are more one-sided than the final score indicates, of course, but the Huskers aren't really going to care about beating Iowa until they can't take it for granted anymore.
WINNER: Jerry Kill, eh?
It looks like everything Jerry Kill's been telling his team since he inherited it last December might yet be sinking in. After a 1-6 (0-3) start to the season where none of the Gophers' conference losses were even competitive, Minnesota turned the boat around in a big way with a 22-21 comeback win over Iowa. After that, Minnesota looked like a different team, hanging tough with Michigan State and Northwestern in losses and at the very least losing to Wisconsin by a smaller margin than Penn State just did. And now, the Gophers have closed the season out with the aforementioned 27-7 drubbing of listless Illinois. MarQueis Gray rushed for 167 yards, threw for 85 more, and accounted for all three of the Gopher's touchdowns in the victory without turning the ball over.
This Gopher team has a long way to go in order to start hanging with its Legends Division rivals on a weekly basis. The lines are a mess, there's a dearth of experience on both sides of the ball, and Kill isn't drawing high-quality recruits yet. He's got a complete overhaul on his hands, and those don't happen in a year at a school like Minnesota. But there's two ways to overhaul a program: spend four years recruiting "your" players into the system, or change the program's culture so substantially that the old coach's players buy in and become "your" players. Kill seems to be on that path, and that bodes well. Doesn't seem like something we thought we'd be saying just a couple months ago, when Kill was talking about needing to "babysit" his players and losing every game by 30 or so, but here we are.
LOSER: Michigan's classless fans
Look at them, rushing the field and celebrating after Michigan beats a 6-6 team. Act like you've been there, guys, right? The nerve of it all!
We're kidding, of course, because the cathartic value of a win like that, erasing eight years of misery and futility hard-wired into to Michigan's identity as a football program, would be off the charts even if Ohio State were coming into the game 0-11. But we're still talking about a bowl team here in OSU, and one that gave Michigan all sorts of fits over the course of the game. You have our full blessing on this field-storming, Michigan. And if anyone says otherwise, well, haters gonna hate. Feels nice to have haters again, doesn't it?
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Tags: A.J. Jenkins, Adam Jacobi, Al Borges, Andrew Luck, Barry Sanders, Big Ten, Big Ten Winners And Losers, Brady Hoke, Bret Bielema, Glen Mason, Greg Mattison, Heroes Game, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Jerry Kill, Keith Nichol, Kirk Cousins, MarQueis Gray, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Montee Ball, Nathan Scheelhaase, Nebraska, Nebraska, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Paul Chryst, Penn State, Rex Burkhead, Robert Griffin III, Ron Zook, Russell Wilson, Trent Richardson, Week 13, Week 13 Winners and Losers, What I Learned, Whitney Mercilus, Will Hagerup, Will Hagerup GIF, Winners and Losers, Winners and Losers Week 13, Wisconsin
Posted on: November 12, 2011 9:40 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
MICHIGAN WON: The rematch of last year's incredible 67-65 slugfest failed to deliver this year, as No. 24 Michigan coasted to a 31-14 victory over listless Illinois. Denard Robinson was hampered by a bruised wrist, so Fitzgerald Toussaint was a workhorse in response; Toussaint tallied 192 yards on 27 carries for the day.
WHY MICHIGAN WON: The Wolverines held A.J. Jenkins to eight catches for 103 yards and no touchdowns. Now, to the average observer, a defense does not "hold" a single receiver to those types of numbers and call it a success, but also consider that Jenkins was thrown to 20 times by Nathan Scheelhaase. So, on throws to arguably the best WR in the Big Ten, Scheelhaase's passing numbers were 8-20 for 103 yards and no scores. That's a major victory for the Michigan secondary.
WHEN MICHIGAN WON: When Jason Ford scored on a two-yard rush to bring Illinois within 24-14. The problem wasn't Illinois putting points on the board, of course, it's how long it took; the Illini drive took 6:46 off the clock, and when there's under 10 minutes on the clock when the drive starts, that's a recipe for an insufficient comeback.
WHAT MICHIGAN WON: Michigan's division title hopes are, barring Michigan State losses to both Indiana and Northwestern, over. So that's a bummer for the weekend even with this victory. But Devin Gardner at least got a great deal of snaps in relief of Robinson, and while he's clearly no Denard, he was at least serviceable. That kind of experience should be valuable down the road.
WHAT ILLINOIS LOST: Whatever mojo Illinois had at the beginning of the year is all gone. This doesn't even look like the same group of players that was out there taking the fight to Arizona State back in September. It's safe to say that even despite starting the year 6-0, Ron Zook's seat is on fire. How much more embarrassment can the Illinois program take?
THAT WAS CRAZY: Go ahead, try to wrap your mind around a Junior Hemingway catch going for -71 yards and a touchdown. Just sit and think about how that could happen. You'll be contemplating alternate universes, time warps, and reversed global polarity within one minute flat. It's really quite a thing to imagine.
Posted on: November 11, 2011 2:45 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
The Saturday Meal Plan is a helpful guide put together for you to maximize the results of your college football diet. Just enough to leave you feeling full, but not so much you spend your entire Sunday in the bathroom.
It's been one of the longest weeks that I can remember in the world of college football because of what has been going in in State College this week, and I don't know about you, but I could really use a day to just immerse myself in football games and nothing else at this point.
So, thankfully, we've got a pretty decent slate of games on tap this weekend, though the schedule does get a bit thin toward the end of the day.
Texas Tech vs. #2 Oklahoma State - ABC, 12pm ET
Texas Tech has already spoiled the party for Oklahoma this season, and now it will be looking to finish off another Oklahoma school with BCS championship dreams. Of course, considering the way that Texas Tech has looked the last two weeks since that Oklahoma win, a victory against Oklahoma State in this one might be even more of a shocker. - Tom Fornelli
#13 South Carolina vs. Florida - CBS, 12pm ET
Steve Spurrier facing the program built by Steve Spurrier is always a headline-maker, but the bigger story is whether the Gamecocks can stay afloat in the SEC East title race. As in command as Georgia appears to be, a Carolina win over the Gators paired with an Auburn win over the Dawgs would have the East crown clinched for the Gamecocks by the end of the day. Florida may have something to say about that, though, after their previously moribund offense came to life with 410 total yards and 26 points vs. Vandy. - Jerry Hinnen
Iowa vs. #17 Michigan State - ESPN2, 12pm ET
There are approximately three games left (barring disastrous upsets) that will decide the Big Ten Legends Division race. This is one of them. Iowa, even with three losses, still controls its own destiny in the race, and has been undefeated at home. Meanwhile, Michigan State is the putative leader of the division, and a win here puts the Spartans in great shape to make it to Indianapolis in December. MSU hasn't been able to run on anybody, and Iowa hasn't been able to stop anybody on the ground. Something's gotta give. - Adam Jacobi
#5 Boise State vs. TCU - Versus, 3:30pm ET
Here it is, Boise State's Mountain West Super Bowl. With no conference championship, and a soft finish to the regular season schedule, this is the Broncos last chance to make a statement against an opponent with any national recognition. The Horned Frogs aren't the power they have been the last two seasons, but they definitely present the most difficult challenge to Boise State in the conference. Bad news for TCU though, the defense that is giving up 200+ yards per game through the air has to face Kellen Moore on the Smurf Turf. I expect Moore and Co. to take the opportunity to make a statement to the nation, so get the scoreboard warmed up now. - Chip Patterson
#14 Kansas State vs. Texas A&M - ABC, 3:30pm ET
If last week was any indication, we were all a bit early in writing off Kansas State following it's loss to Oklahoma. The Wildcats nearly put an end to Oklahoma State's BCS hopes last weekend, and they will be looking to put another nail in the coffin of Texas A&M this weekend. The Aggies have lost two in a row coming into this game, and lost running back Christine Michael for the season last week. Will the A&M offense be capable of making up for his absence? Also, will it even matter if Collin Klein has another amazing game for the Wildcats? - TF
#15 Georgia vs. #20 Auburn - CBS, 3:30pm ET
Can Mark Richt's team handle the pressure? Win this game, and the Bulldogs will be one home gimme over Kentucky from their first trip to the SEC Championship game since 2005--the sort of stakes under which Richt's team has repeatedly shriveled in those five preceding years. If Aaron Murray plays his game, the Dawg defense forces Clint Moseley to look like the sophomore making a third career start he is, and Isaiah Crowell can find a hole or two, Georgia should be home and dry. But if they don't? The Tigers showed against Carolina and Florida that they're perfectly happy dragging opposing pro-style offenses into a low-scoring slugfest where Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb dominate things ... and the Tigers win. - JH
Florida State vs. Miami - ABC/ESPN, 3:30pm ET
The in-state rivalry enters a new chapter with both Miami and Florida State making coaching changes in the last two seasons. With EJ Manuel healthy again, the Seminoles are on a four-game winning streak averaging 38.5 points per game. They are likely out of the ACC Atlantic race, but there is still plenty to play for for these two Florida programs. Players from both locker rooms have made a point to mention this game meaning a little more, as you can feel the intensity returning to the rivalry. High profile recruits will be in the house, bragging rights will be on the line, and the Hurricanes are no doubt looking to get revenge after last season's embarrassing 45-17 loss at home. - CP
USC vs. Washington - FX, 3:45pm ET
Although USC can't play in a Pac-12 Championship game this season, it would still like to show the rest of the conference that it's the best team in the Pac-12 South this season, and if it continues to play like it has been the last few weeks, then Washington may be in for a long day. Of course, on the other side of the field is a Washington team that is improving but still doesn't have that signature win under Steve Sarkisian. Going to The Coliseum and handing USC a loss would be just that. - TF
Illinois vs. #24 Michigan - ABC/ESPN, 3:30pm ET
The last two times these teams squared off, the final score was a 67-65 3OT masterpiece in Michigan's favor. We might not see 132 total points scored (or even 100; quelle horreur!), as both defenses have been miles ahead of last year. That said, both teams' exciting quarterbacks are back and putting up solid numbers, and each squad should be extremely motivated to snap a losing streak with a big victory. Folks, it's Denard vs. Scheelhaase; why wouldn't you watch this game? - AJ
Maryland vs. Notre Dame - NBC, 7:30pm ET
Do you ever think to yourself that you hate your eyes? Well, if so, then this will be the game for you. Maryland will be breaking out the infamous uniforms we saw in their season opener against Miami earlier this year, and they'll be combined with Notre Dame's Trapper Keeper helmets. By the time the third quarter begins you'll feel like you've been trapped inside a Jackson Pollock painting. - TF
Mississippi State vs. #3 Alabama - ESPN, 7:45pm ET
Oh, Bulldogs, you did not pick the right time to face Alabama. Not that it likely would have any difference--since back-to-back shockers over the Tide in 2006 and 2007, State has lost three straight to Nick Saban's team by a combined score of 93-20. But catching Alabama the week after the wicked sting of losing to LSU won't do much for their chances. Unless Chris Relf and Tyler Russell took some seriously ginormous strides during last week's clobbering of FCS UT-Martin, it's doubtful a Bulldog offense that's had its share of troubles this season will find many solutions against the angry Tide. - JH
#4 Stanford vs. #7 Oregon - ABC, 8pm ET
The Game of the Century may have been in Tuscaloosa this past weekend but the Game of the Century, Western edition will take place Saturday in Palo Alto as Oregon puts their 18 game conference streak against Stanford's nation-leading 17 game winning streak. This was a close game last season before the Ducks pulled away late, something Andrew Luck and company are intent on correcting in order to come out of the game with a win and their national title hopes alive. - Bryan Fischer
LATE NIGHT SNACK
Washington State vs. Arizona State - Versus, 10:30pm ET
Both teams are looking to make a statement and pick up a win but more is on the line for Arizona State after losing control of the Pac-12 South after last week's loss to UCLA. The Cougars are improved but will have to deal with Vontaze Burfict on defense and an offense with plenty of weapons to contain. - BF
Tags: Aaron Murray, ACC, Adam Jacobi, Alabama, Andrew Luck, Arizona State, Auburn, Big 12, Big Ten, Boise State, Chip Patterson, Chris Relf, Christine Michael, Clint Moseley, Collin Klein, Denard Robinson, E.J. Manuel, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Isaiah Crowell, Jackson Pollock, Jerry Hinnen, Kansas State, Kellen Moore, Kentucky, LSU, Mark Richt, Maryland, Miami, Michael Dyer, Michigan, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Mountain West, Nathan Scheelhaase, Nick Saban, Non-BCS, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Onterrio McCalebb, Oregon, Pac-12, Saturday Meal Plan, SEC, South Carolina, Stanford, Steve Sarkisian, Steve Spurrier, TCU, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Tom Fornelli, Tyler Russell, UCLA, USC, Vontaze Burfict, Washington, Washington State
Posted on: October 29, 2011 7:30 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
PENN STATE WON. Another week, another close win for Penn State, who rallied late to snatch a 10-7 victory from Illinois in the snowiest game ever played at Happy Valley. The game stayed scoreless amid myriad errors until Illinois scored with 3:32 left in the third quarter; from there, it was 10 straight Penn State points and the Nittany Lions hung on for the win.
HOW PENN STATE WON: Penn State just committed fewer errors on Saturday, and really, that's not saying a lot. Penn State had "only" three turnovers, while Illinois had four. Both teams scored one touchdown and lined up for two field goals. Penn State's Anthony Fera made one of his two attempts, while Illinois botched the hold on one field goal and the usually reliable Derek Dimke put his game-ending kick square on the upright.
WHEN PENN STATE WON: When the ball went doink. Illinois took over the ball with just 1:08 on the clock, but Nathan Scheelhaase drove his team into field position with just the time he'd been given. A make puts the game into overtime, but alas, that was not to be.
WHAT PENN STATE WON: Penn State, somehow, is 8-1 on the season, with its only loss coming to Alabama early in the season. In some ways, Penn State could probably lay a claim to a Top 10 ranking based on its record and resume of opponents. It wouldn't be a strong claim, mind you, but the case could be made all the same. You'd think the magic would run out soon, but we're three-quarters of the way through the season; we're long past the point that this winning stops being an anomaly and starts being the story of Penn State's season.
And as for what Joe Paterno won, the venerable old coach just passed Grambling State legend Eddie Robinson to assume the Division I all-time record for most career coaching victories, with 409.
WHAT ILLINOIS LOST: Illinois may have lost its last chance to avert disaster. This was the Illini's third straight loss after a 6-0 start; with Michigan and Wisconsin looming next on the schedule, that slide could easily hit five straight games coming into a season finale at Minnesota that looks a little bit tougher today after the Gophers' win this week over Iowa.
THAT WAS CRAZY: In the second quarter, Illinois took advantage of a Rob Bolden fumble to take over the ball at Penn State's 24. The Illini quickly pushed the ball inside the PSU 5-yard line, and had a 3rd and goal at the 3. Jason Ford appeared to score on the next play, but Illinois was flagged for illegal motion and the touchdown was nullified. Nathan Scheelhaase threw an incomplete pass on the next play, and on 4th down, holder Tim Russell bobbled the snap, came up with it before Dimke could kick it, and threw an interception. The Illini were awarded no points, and may God have mercy on their souls.
Also, Bolden should not be taking one single snap away from Matt McGloin anymore, but you knew that.
Posted on: October 26, 2011 2:08 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
ILLINOIS WILL WIN IF: Nathan Scheelhaase can figure out the Penn State defense. In the Big Ten, Penn State trails only Michigan State in every defensive metric except scoring defense -- and there, the Nittany Lions are ranked first. At the same time, PSU hasn't faced a quarterback nearly as dynamic as Nathan Scheelhaase this season, and it'll be crucial for Scheelhaase to make plays happen if Illinois is going to have any shot to pull off this road victory. Whether that means Scheelhaase does it with his feet on scrambles and option runs, or by getting A.J. Jenkins free in the secondary (a tall task for Ron Zook against a defense like this) remains to be seen.
PENN STATE WILL WIN IF: Silas Redd continues to wreck all those in his path. One of the biggest reasons Penn State is the only 4-0 team in Big Ten play is that all of a sudden, opponents can't stop Silas Redd and the Penn State rushing attack. In Big Ten conference games, Redd leads the pack in rushing yards per game with over 140 yards (Montee Ball and Rex Burkhead are close behind, while overall Big Ten rushing leader Denard Robinson's numbers have been curtailed sharply in conference play). This success forces defenses to key on the run, and that in turn opens up Matt McGloin and the passing game nicely.
X-FACTOR: Will Good Zook or Bad Zook show up? Good Zook encourages his defense to play with maximum effort and puts his best players on offense front and center. Bad Zook loses track of the score, goes for it on 4th down when he doesn't have to, and has a team that comes out flat. Illinois has seen enough of Bad Zook in the last two weeks.