Saturday at noon, the Nittany Lions will kick off Big Ten play against the Fighting Illini.
Penn State is coming off a 24-13 win against long time rival Temple, and a 34-7 win over Navy a week before. For the Illini, they are coming off a 52-24 drubbing over Louisiana Tech.
Both teams will be returning key offensive weapons on Saturday. For Penn State, starting running back Bill Belton practiced Wednesday and is expected to return this week from an ankle injury that has kept him out of action since week 1 against Ohio. Expected to join him in the backfield is backup running back Derek Day who has been battling shoulder problems since week 2 against Virginia.
Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase is expected to return after a nagging ankle injury he’s had for the last few weeks. Scheelhaase returned last week against Louisiana Tech but got banged up early in the game and sat out the remainder of the game. Look for backup Sophomore quarterback Reilly O’Toole who went 19-25 for 120 yards last game, to see some action if Scheelhaase is not 100%.
Penn State QB Matt McGloin is coming off a career high 318 yards against Temple last week, and his 9 TDs so far this year has already surpassed the 8 he had all of last year. One has to wonder if Head Coach Bill O’Brien, who was the Offensive Coordinator for Tom Brady and the Patriots had anything to do with it. His main target has been Sophomore standout Allen Robinson, who has 29 catches and 5 TD grabs thus far.
The Illini will look to get the ball to arguably their best playmaker, WR Ryan Lankford who has 16 catches for 4 TDs so far this year. Lankford’s father, Paul, played football under Paterno in the early ’80s.
What to Expect: The Illinois’ Defense has been a big question mark all year, giving up 510 yards to Arizona State three weeks ago and 403 yards to mediocre WAC opponent Louisiana Tech last week. One of the nation’s best Linebackers, Jonathan Brown (26 tackles, 1.5 sacks) will have to have a big game in order to stop the consistent Penn State running game. Look for Penn State to pound the ball now that both of the Nittany Lions top running backs Bill Belton (ankle) and Derek Day (shoulder) are expected to play.
Keys to Win: For Penn State, It’ll be all about getting the running game going. With injuries to Belton and Day, there have been five running backs involved in the offense so far this year including Sophomore Curtis Dukes, whose had double-digit carries the last two games. Now that both Belton and Day are healthy, expect about a 65-35 run-pass ratio. Defensively, Penn State will need to be careful of Scheelhaase’s ability to scramble out of the pocket and make plays with his feet.
In order for Illinois to win, they will need to cut down on turnovers. Last week against LA Tech, they had five. They will also need to provide pressure on McGloin and force him to make quick decisions with the football.
Prediction: Penn State 27 Illinois 17