UI-Penn State: 5 keys
Marcus Jackson's take on today's 11 a.m. kickoff against Penn State at Memorial Stadium:
Can Illinois take care of the ball?
After giving it away six times in last week’s 52-24 loss to Louisiana Tech, that’s what the Illini have been preaching this week in practice. The last time Illinois turned it over as many as five times was 2008 against Eastern Illinois. They won that game, but give it away five or more times today and it’ll be an 0-1 start to the Big Ten season for the Illini, who are tied with Michigan for the most turnovrs in the Big Ten with 11.
Who’s going to lead Penn State in rushing?
That’s anyone’s guess. Though they haven’t had a 100-yard rusher through four games this season, four different players have led the Nittany Lions in rushing. Bill Belton led with 53 yards in the season opener against Ohio, Derek Day’s 47 were tops at Virginia, leading rusher Michael Zordich (133 yards) had 50 against Navy and Zach Zwinak had 94 last week against Temple.
Is history on Tim Beckman’s side for the Big Ten opener?
The recent success of first-year Illinois coaches in Big Ten openers isn’t good. Illinois’ last three coaches, Ron Zook (2005), Ron Turner (1997) and Lou Tepper (1992), lost their first conference games. Tepper’s team won its next Big Ten game. Turner and Zook each lost nine straight Big Ten games before notching their first win.
What’s up with Illinois’ defense?
Based on the finger-pointing after touchdowns, sideline blowups last week and comments made by players earlier this week, everyone isn’t on the same page. Akeem Spence said some players want to blitz more, defensive coordinator Tim Banks acknowledged his play-calling might get more aggressive and having veteran safeties Steve Hull and Supo Sanni back in the rotations will make it easier to call for more pressure. Many still feel this defensive unit has enough talent to be successful, but everyone has to be working together.
Who’s Illinois’ quarterback?
Beckman on Monday declared Nathan Scheelhaase his starting quarterback despite pulling the fourth-year junior in the first quarter of last week’s loss. Scheelhaase wasn’t 100 percent after making his first start since leaving the season opener with an ankle injury. When healthy, he’s the team’s best option because he’s a threat with his legs and arm equally. Reilly O’Toole has shown steady improvement and the strong-armed sophomore is a capable backup if called upon.