I originally meant to do this earlier in the week, but like always, the procrastinator in me took over.
Previous Meeting: Sept. 29, 2007 – A Penn State team reeling from an inexplicable loss at Michigan the week before came into Champaign thinking that the Illini were just what the doctor ordered to get them back on the winning track…What they didn’t count on however, was a much more talented squad that featured a myriad of offensive weapons in QB Juice Williams, RB Rashard Mendenhall, and WR Arrelious Benn, not to mention a stifling defense featuring an All-American Badass for a linebacker in J. Leman, who famously “judo-chopped” a go-ahead and potentially momentum-shifting TD catch by Andrew Quarless late in the game.
Anthony Morelli also played a huge role that day: Throwing 3 INTs and fumbling once, all in the second half, and most of the time with PSU’s starting field position being in Illini territory. Meanwhile, a frustrated Darryl Clark could only sit back and watch as the coaching staff, out of fear of not fucking up Morelli’s already fragile psyche, kept Morelli in the ball game despite mistake after costly mistake in what would end up being a heart-breaking 27-20 loss.
Offense: The Juice gets increasingly loose every year, and so far he has shedded the label of being a “one-dimensional running QB who can’t throw the ball” by completing 60% of his passes thus far. The actual results of his passes have still been mixed though w/ 5 INTs to go along with 7 TD passes.
Even more alarming is the fact that Juice Williams has carried the ball more times than any of the Illini’s tailbacks thus far (46) and although he’s averaging about 5 yards per carry with 2 TDs to his credit, somebody else needs to step up in order for the Illini to pull of the upset in Happy Valley: I’m looking in your direction, Daniel Dufrene (45 carries, 300 yards but 0 TDs). Nonetheless, expect Juice to give our linebacking corps a run for their money, as they will have to respect his running ability, which should give more leeway for the wide receivers to get open. Speaking of which…
Receiving-wise, this team will probably be our stiffest challenge yet. Will Judson, Arrelious Benn, and TE Michael Hoomanawanui are clearly the prime targets for Juice, combining for a grand total of 32 catches for 382 yards and 3 TDs thus far on the year. FightOnState.com’s pre-game report talks about how dangerous Hoomanawanui could be, since he’s flying under the radar as a tight end and PSU’s defense has a recent history of giving up too many big plays to tight ends.
Arrelious Benn had his breakout performance against us last year, scoring his first collegiate TD on a kickoff return after PSU got on board first with a field goal, putting Illinois ahead for good. Let’s hope our kick coverage team is ready for him this time around, otherwise don’t be surprised to see him return another one to the house.
Overall, one should expect the Illini to make their share of big plays against a shaky PSU secondary and also grind out some yardage on the ground with the Juice running loose.
Defense: There’s no sugarcoating it: They have taken a step back from last season. The Missouri game pretty much exposed Illinois’ weaknesses defensively, and the Illini currently rank 85th against the run (“Stephfvan Roygreen” is licking its chops right now) and 77th against the pass.
This is not to say that there are no quality defensive players on the Illini. Even though J. Leman is gone, Brit Miller has stepped up his game, having racked up 36 tackles thus far (1st in the Big Ten, 3rd in the nation). Martez Wilson is no slouch himself, with 26 tackles (including a team-leading 2 solo sacks) and Vontae Davis is a quality cornerback whom Darryl Clark should be wary of when trying to throw in his vicinity.
With that being said, I’d still look for PSU to take the blueprint Mizzou handed them and expose the Illini with their own vaunted run/pass attack that will have them thinking they’re back in St. Louis.
Special Teams: Kicker Matt Eller is 4-for-5 on field goal attempts with a long of 51 yards, but other than that the Illini have been rather quiet thus far with no TDs on punt or kickoff returns…Let’s hope that doesn’t change tomorrow night.
BONUS INTERVIEW: I wanted to have a talk with Chief Illiniwek but since the NCAA threatened to take action against me, I had to backtrack and instead bring on another Native American representative, Tonto.
Tonto also unexpectedly brought along his pals Tarzan and Frankenstein with him so what was supposed to be a one-on-one discussion ended up being a mini-roundtable of sorts…
Alright, let me explain the Spread HD offense: It’s a style of offense invented by Penn State’s QB coach Jay Paterno, it involves spreading the field with a combination of running/passing that can be very deceptive to an opponent if done properly.
(runs back into the room, arms failing wildly) RON ZOOK BAAAAD! RON ZOOK BAAAAD!
Final Thoughts: Illinois will prove to be PSU’s stiffest test yet. While they’re not the same team defensively they were last year, they will still prove to be tougher than anyone else we’ve faced thus far. Of course, the real focus of the Illini should be on their highly potent offense which will most likely give our defense its first true glimpse at adversity.
PSU is more than up to the challenge though, and I’d put my money down on the Spread HD continuing its impressive statistical run against a weakened Illini defense. It looks like State College’s 4th Fest will have some competition this year with regards to the “best fireworks show in Central PA” title as both teams should be lighting up the scoreboard offensively.
Furthermore, the home team will be feeding off a jam-packed “White House” in a night game on ABC with the revenge factor fully in effect. I’m not buying the 15-point favorite that Vegas is trying to entice unsuspecting gamblers into taking the bait for, but I still think we win this game by more than a TD.
Prediction: Penn State 34, Illini 24