When the Penn State Nittany Lions (7-1, 4-0 Big Ten) welcome the Illinois Fighting (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten) Illini to Beaver Stadium on Saturday they’ll be looking to maintain their lead in the Leaders Division of the Big Ten with revenge on their mind.
That revenge comes from last season’s shalacking at the hands of the Illini, 33-13 in Beaver Stadium, the Lions’ worst home loss since losing by 20 points in 2007 to Ohio State, 37-17. The Illini dominated the Lions in time of possession, controlling the ball for 38 minutes and 12 seconds, while the Lions just 21:48.
This time around, the Lions will look to flip the script on Ron Zooks’s Illini. The Lions will try and control the ball by using a steady running game of Silas Redd, Stephfon Green, Curtis Dukes and Co. The plan worked last week against Northwestern, where the Lions rushed for 197 yards and wore down the Wildcats’ defense.
If the Lions want to avoid the upset at home to Zook’s Illini, they’ll have to do a better job of containing dual-threat quarterback Nathan Sheelhasse, who accounted for 212 yards of total offense and a score in last seasons matchup. That task should be made easier as the Lions boast one of the best defenses in the country, a unit that has fared much better than the one that face the Illini last year.
Standout defensive tackles Devon Still and Jordan Hill have been wreaking havoc on opposing backfields in 2011, combining for 19 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. If Still and Hill can clog the line of scrimmage, life will be tough on Sheelhasse, who has struggled in losses to Ohio State and Purdue.
For the Nittany Lions on offense, the gameplan is simple: Feed No. 25. Silas Redd has four-straight 100+ yard rushing games, all wins. In that same span the sophomore is averaging 5.5 yards per carry. If the Lions can establish Redd and the run game early on, they can setup the play-action passing game, which QB Matt McGloin excels in. Establishing Redd won’t be an easy task against the Big Ten’s second best rushing defense, which is allowing just 2.7 yards per attempt and around 101 yards per game.
Though the Illini lead the Big Ten with 27 sacks through 8 games this season, the Nittany Lions have given up just seven sacks. Whichever team wins that matchup could win the game.
Conventional wisdom suggests that Matt McGloin will start again at QB for the Lions, having played every snap last week against Northwestern. But don’t count out Rob Bolden as the starter in this one. McGloin brought Lions back from 21 points down against Northwestern last season, so it’s possible coach Joe Paterno rewarded the QB with the start based off the previous season. Nevertheless, Penn State is adement that they haven’t picked a starting QB for the rest of the season despite McGloin’s recent success.
- Silas Redd, RB, Penn State: Redd, who was recently added to the Maxwell Award watch list, is a dynamic threat out of the backfield. If he gets his fifth-straight 100 yard rushing game, more than likely the Lions will leave the field with a win.
- Nathan Sheelhasse, QB, Illinois: No brainer here as the talented dual-threat has over 2,000 total yards this season spearheading the Illinois offense.
- Penn State’s front seven vs. The Illinois offense:If the Lions can control
the line of scrimmage they can turn Sheelhasse into a thrower, where he has struggled in the past two weeks, if not, it’ll be a long day for the Lions chasing him and Jason Ford.
- The Lions will get just enough points to avoid the upset at the hands of the Illini. I can easily see this game going either way, but I like the Penn State defense more than I like the Illinois defense. I think the Lions get a stop late and stay atop the Leaders division for another week.