NCAA Week Six: Illinois vs Penn State

 

The offense has to step it up in the red zone and put points on the board! (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

 

PSU: 2010 record – 3-2
ILL: 2010 record – 2-2
Spread: Penn State by 8
Where: Beaver Stadium
When: Saturday, 12:00 PM on ESPN2
Last time met: Oct. 3, 2009 – Evan Royster and Stephon Green combined for 225 rushing yards as the Nittany Lions rolled 35-17 on the road.

Opposing player to watch – RB Mikel LeShoure: LeShoure is enjoying a nice season so far averaging 6.2 yards per carry. He ranks second in the Big Ten averaging 119.5 rushing yards per game. LeShoure also ranks 13th in the country in rushing yards. He didn’t play against Penn State in last year’s contest. Robinson has carried for over 100 yards in three out of four Illinois games this season.  He is a decent size back who is getting more carries this season. The Nittany Lions sometimes struggle stopping the run so LeShoure could be a huge asset for the Illini.

Offenses: Scoring points continues to be a huge problem for the Nittany Lions. They could only manage three measly points against the Hawkeyes last week. Once again they struggled in the red zone. Penn State went three-and-out on their first three drives and weren’t able to gather any rhythm. Part it could be part of the fact that the Nittany Lions didn’t run the ball hardly. Evan Royster only had ten carries and he really needs to be a part of the offense for Penn State to be effective. Bolden struggled going 20-for-37 with an interception and was constantly stifled by the Hawkeye defense. There were a few small bright spots for the Nittany Lions in the receiving core. Brent Brackett hauled in a huge 49 yard pass from Bolden towards the end of the first-half. Devon Smith also continued to show how quick and effective he can be. Smith caught five passes for 58 yards and looks like he could be a great asset to the Penn State receiving core. Bolden just simply needs to put the ball into the end zone. He has shown flashes of brillance but just seems to struggle once he enters the red zone. Maybe it’s the pressure getting to the freshman but he needs to improve in the red zone if Penn State is going to be successful.

The Illinois Fighting Illini has averaged 332 yards of offense per game this season which is last in the Big Ten. In their first four games this season, the Fighting Illini have scored only 89 points. Nathan Scheelhaase has struggled so far this season. He is 43-for-79 for 489 yards and only three touchdowns. Scheelhaase has also thrown four interceptions. Illinois hasn’t exactly played against elite competition. Their two wins were against Northern Illinois and Southern Illinois. This game will certainly be a challenging one for them. The Fighting Illini will be depending heavily on LeShoure in the running game if they want to pull the upset. Their top two receivers have only combined for 29 catches on the season. A.J. Jenkins and Jarred Fayson have combined for 335 yards in four games. The next receiver only has four catches, so Illinois just doesn’t seem to be having much success this season.

Advantage: Penn State has a significant advantage. Bolden has struggled but overall he hasn’t looked bad. There are just more playmakers in the Nittany Lions’ offense and the Illini won’t be able to put enough points on the board.

Defenses: The Nittany Lions’ defense struggled last week on the road in Iowa. They gave up ten points before anyone could even blink. They had problems with experience signal caller Ricky Stanzi. The Penn State defense should have a nice rebound game against the Fighting Illini. Illinois doesn’t have a pass heavy offense and should be looking to run the ball quite often. The Nittany Lions front seven will have to stack the box and try to shut down LeShoure. If they can force the Illini to start throwing the ball, it could pose an advantage for Penn State. Defensive back Nick Sukay is enjoying a great 2010 season so far leading the team with three interceptions. The Nittany Lions need to step up the pass rush. They only sacked Stanzi once last week and the lack of pressure was one of the main reasons they fell on the road.

The Fighting Illini defense does possess a solid pass rush. They are tied for third in sacks in the Big Ten with ten. However they are tenth in the Big Ten in interceptions with only two. Junior safety Trulon Henry has both of the Fighting Illini interceptions on the year. Middle linebacker Martez Wilson leads the charge on defense. Wilson missed 11 games last season and is one of Ron Zook’s most prized recruits since coming to Illinois. Wilson was one of the few bright spots in Illinois’ loss against Ohio State, in which he had nine tackles and a sack. Wilson ranks in the top five in the Big Ten averaging 8.5 tackles per game. The Penn State offense will have to know where Wilson is at all times on Saturday. Defensive tackle Corey Liuget will also bring a physical edge to the Fighting Illini defense.

Advantage: Penn State has the slight edge with a talented secondary that thrives on takeaways. Stopping the running game will be very key for the Nittany Lions.

Injury Report:
Penn State: OT Lou Eliades (Torn ACL) *Out for the season, LB Gerald Hodges (Leg injury) *Out for at least two more weeks, TE Garry Gilliam (torn ACL) *Out for the season
Illinois: S Supo Sanni (ruptured Achilles tendon) *Out for the season

Prediction: Penn State handles Illinois 24-10 with Bolden having a solid day through the air.

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Filed under Brent Brackett, Devon Smith, Evan Royster, Illinois Fighting Illini, Martez Wilson, Mikel LeShoure, Nathan Scheelhaase, Nick Sukay, Penn State Nittany Lions, Robert Bolden, Stephon Green

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