HQ prediction: Penn State 33, UI 16

HQ prediction: Penn State 33, UI 16

QUARTERBACKS

2    Nathan Scheelhaase    6-3    205    Sr.    Kansas City, Mo.

14    Christian Hackenberg    6-3    220    Fr.    Palmyra, Va.

Edge: Penn State. Ohio State made Hackenberg look like a true freshman last Saturday night at the Horsehoe. That’s been a theme for Urban Meyer’s defense this season. Tim Beckman’s defense isn’t on par with what Hackenberg faced last week, which should help the pocket passer post stellar numbers at home. Hackenberg is prone to interceptions, but he earned many new fans in leading Penn State past Michigan three weeks ago. Scheelhaase has had a rough week not only with his mediocre showing against Michigan State but with off-the-field drama following his father’s arrest at last Saturday’s game in Champaign. Scheelhaase played well three years ago in Happy Valley, leading Illinois to its only win at Beaver Stadium. Scheelhaase hasn’t used his feet much this year — other than trying to scramble away from sacks — and will try to duplicate what Braxton Miller did to Penn State’s secondary last week.  

RUNNING BACKS

6    Josh Ferguson    5-10    195    Soph.    Naperville



1    Bill Belton    5-10    205    Jr.    Sicklerville, N.J.

35    Pat Zerbe    6-1    231    Sr.    West Lawn, Pa.

Edge: Penn State. The games in which Ferguson had elusive spin moves and high-stepped away from defenders seem like long ago. Michigan State and Wisconsin bottled up the all-purpose back the last two weeks. Donovonn Young, the starter at the beginning of the season, did not get onto the field for an offensive snap against the Spartans. Who knows if he will against Penn State, either. The ineffectiveness of Illinois’ offense against the Spartans showed after the first half; the Illini had 42 offensive plays in the game. A productive run game emerged against Nebraska but has not existed since. Penn State isn’t as formidable against the run as Wisconsin and Michigan State, so Ferguson should have more open space in which to work. Belton splits time with Zach Zwinak, and the duo is effective, with Zerbe serving as the fullback. Combined, Belton and Zwinak have rushed for 868 yards on 187 carries and 11 touchdowns.



RECEIVERS

9    Steve Hull    6-2    200    Sr.    Cincinnati

8    Miles Osei    6-0    195    Sr.    Mount Prospect

80    Spencer Harris    6-3    205    Sr.    Greenwood, Ark.

8    Allen Robinson    6-3    211    Jr.    Southfield, Mich.

85    Brandon Felder    6-2    200    Sr.    Fort Washington, Md.



Edge: Penn State. With Ryan Lankford sidelined for the rest of the season, Hull — if healthy — should start the final five regular season games. Harris has had back-to-back solid games, and while Osei won’t burn too many defensive backs for a long pass, he is a safe option in the short to intermediate passing game. But none of the Illini compare with Robinson. Robinson hasn’t disappointed after his breakout season in 2012, when he eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark. With 878 receiving yards (and six touchdowns). Robinson is a virtual cinch to surpass 1,000 yards again. If he does, he’ll land his name on an exclusive list at the school. Bobby Engram is the only other wideout to have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons at Penn State, and he wound up winning the inaugural Biletnikoff Award in 1995.

TIGHT ENDS

3    Jon Davis    6-3    240    Jr.    Louisville, Ky.


18    Jesse James    6-7    257    Soph.    Glassport, Pa.

87    Kyle Carter    6-3    243    Jr.    Bear, Del.

Edge: Penn State. Bill Cubit said after learning Lankford is out for the season with a shoulder injury that the Illinois tight ends would have to produce more. Saturday would be a good time to start. Davis, Matt LaCosse and Evan Wilson have struggled in Big Ten play — much like the entire team. The trio, which has a combined 29 receptions for 317 yards and seven touchdowns, produced mostly during the nonconference portion of the schedule. In league action, Davis, LaCosse and Wilson have had seven catches for 94 yards and one touchdown. James and Carter, meanwhile, are solid targets for Hackenberg. Between the two, they have combined for 24 receptions and 286 yards. Expect those numbers to increase against the Illini.

OFFENSIVE LINE

68    Simon Cvijanovic    6-5    310    Jr.    Cleveland

74    Michael Heitz    6-5    305    Jr.    Vermont

52    Alex Hill    6-3    315    Jr.    Slidell, La.

69    Ted Karras    6-4    300    Soph.    Indianapolis

70    Corey Lewis    6-6    315    Sr.    Cresco, Pa.

76    Donovan Smith    6-5    322    Soph.    Owings Mills, Md.

65    Miles Dieffenbach    6-3    295    Jr.    Pittsburgh

60    Ty Howle    6-0    293    Sr.    Wake Forest, N.C.

64    John Urschel    6-3    301    Sr.    Williamsville, N.Y.

77    Garry Gilliam    6-6    303    Jr.    Carlisle, Pa.

Edge: Illinois. Both teams have given up nearly the same amount of sacks (Illinois 18, Penn State 19). Not all are the fault of the offensive line, obviously. Illinois’ inability to run the ball lately hasn’t exactly shone the brightest spotlight on the unit. But Michigan State and Wisconsin are first and fourth, respectively, in the country defending the run. Illinois was able to run the ball effectively in the Big Ten opener against Nebraska and should have mild success against the Nittany Lions. Penn State has probably the smartest offensive lineman in college football in Urschel, who is well-respected among his peers and delivered an impressive speech during the Big Ten luncheon in late July.

DEFENSIVE LINE

59    Tim Kynard    6-3    270    Sr.    Toledo, Ohio

93    Teko Powell    6-3    295    Soph.    Miami

44    Austin Teitsma    6-2    290    Jr.    Glen Ellyn

55    Houston Bates    6-3    250    Jr.    Covington, La.

86    C.J. Olaniyan     6-3    244    Jr.    Warren, Mich.

91    DaQuan Jones    6-3    318    Sr.    Johnson City, N.Y.

84    Kyle Baublitz    6-5    281    Jr.    York, Pa.

18    Deion Barnes    6-4    245    Soph.    Philadelphia

Edge: Penn State. Jones is a large man. A large man who can tackle players. Usually behind the line of scrimmage. The hulking defensive tackle for the Nittany Lions leads all Big Ten players in tackles for loss. The interior of Illinois’ offensive line will have its work cut out when Jones is on the field. So will the tackles. Olaniyan has a team-best 3.5 sacks for Penn State. Illinois’ front four put forth a more disruptive effort against the Spartans than the unit had in some time. Bates and Teitsma were in on sacks on consecutive plays late in the second quarter. Having Powell back healthy should benefit Illinois.

LINEBACKERS

45    Jonathan Brown    6-1    230    Sr.    Memphis, Tenn.

43    Mason Monheim    6-1    235    Soph.    Orrville, Ohio

34    Mike Svetina    6-2    230    Soph.    Brunswick, Ohio

43    Mike Hull    6-0    227    Jr.    Canonsburg, Pa.

40    Glenn Carson    6-3    235    Sr.    Manahawkin, N.J.

5    Nyeem Wartman    6-1    241    Fr.    Philadelphia

Edge: Illinois. It’s Linebacker U against Linebacker U. At least that’s what each school touts itself as. Brown has played at a high level all season. He has to because he’s the best defensive player Illinois has. His 10.9 tackles per game lead the Big Ten and are tied for 10th nationally. If he keeps it up, he should find himself on some All-Big Ten ballots in a month. Monheim had his best game of the season against Michigan State. The STAR position is still a bit of an uncertainty for Illinois. Svetina has played well at times, while projected starter Eric Finney has moved down to third on the depth chart behind Zeph Grimes. Carson is the leader of this group for Penn State, and his 55 tackles are most on the team. But he shouldn’t strike fear into Illinois like previous linebackers at Penn State.

SECONDARY

2    V’Angelo Bentley    5-10    190    Soph.    Cleveland

9    Earnest Thomas    6-2    210    Jr.    Orchard Lake, Mich.

21    Zane Petty    6-1    190    Jr.    Corning, Calif.

27    Eaton Spence    6-0    185    Soph.    Belle Glade, Fla.

10    Trevor Williams    6-1    187    Soph.    Baltimore

1    Malcolm Willis    5-11    215    Sr.    Marbury, Md.

4    Adrian Amos    6-0    209    Jr.    Baltimore

9    Jordan Lucas    6-0    193    Soph.    New Rochelle, N.Y.

Edge: Penn State. Tim Beckman is hopeful Bentley can play after spraining his left ankle against Wisconsin. If he can’t go, Jaylen Dunlap and Darius Mosely could start. The two true freshmen, along with another true freshman in Caleb Day, all saw extensive playing time against Michigan State. All three likely will factor into Saturday’s game again considering how often Penn State likes to throw the ball. Mosely had a fumble recovery against Michigan State, but the Illinois secondary still only has one interception this season. Penn State has seven interceptions from seven different players, including each of its four starters in this group.



SPECIAL TEAMS

17    Taylor Zalewski (K, KO)    6-3    220    Soph.    Orland Park

18    Justin DuVernois (P)    6-1    190    Jr.    Plantation, Fla.

54    Zach Hirth (LS)    6-4    220    Fr.    Eureka, Mo.

86    Tim Russell (Holder)    6-6    235    Sr.    St. Charles

2    V’Angelo Bentley (KR, PR)    5-10    190    Soph.    Cleveland

8    Miles Osei (KR, PR)    6-0    200    Sr.    Mount Prospect



97    Sam Ficken (K, KO)    6-2    184    Jr.    Valparaiso, Ind.

45    Alex Butterworth (P)    5-10    206    Sr.    Indianapolis

60    Ty Howle (LS for PATs, FGs)    6-0    293    Sr.    Wake Forest, N.C.

61    Zach Ladonis (LS for punts)    6-2    225    Fr.    Nescopeck, Pa.    

27    Adam Geiger (Holder)    5-9    191    Fr.    Dillsburg, Pa.

7    Eugene Lewis (KR)    6-1    201    Fr.    Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

39    Jesse Della Valle (PR)    6-1    190    Jr.    Pittsburgh

Edge: Illinois. Zalewski was consistent in October. Perhaps the most consistent player on Illinois’ roster. He made all three of his field goal attempts, all five of his extra-point attempts and half of his 12 kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. But the biggest help to the Illinois special teams is the return of Bentley, who provides the possibility of a long return every time he fields the ball. Ficken is automatic on field goal attempts between 20 and 39 yards, having made all six such tries this year. But make him attempt a field goal longer than 40 yards and his accuracy starts to dwindle. All four of his misses in 15 attempts have come beyond 40 yards. Lewis has a long kickoff return of 44 yards this season and Della Valle’s longest punt return is 31 yards, so each player has capabilities of exposing any flaws in coverage.

COACHES

Tim Beckman    At UI (5-14)    Overall (26-30)

Bill O’Brien    At Penn State (12-7)    Overall (12-7)

Edge: Penn State. There’s a reason O’Brien was mentioned for nearly every national Coach of the Year honor last fall. What he did in reshaping the Penn State program after the Jerry Sandusky scandal and NCAA penalties speaks for itself. Last year’s Big Ten Coach of the Year might have a hard time taking home that hardware again if Penn State plays like it did at Ohio State last Saturday for the rest of the season. Regardless, he has proven he is the right man for the job. The question now is, if Penn State keeps having success, how long will he stay around until he bolts for the NFL? The main question regarding Beckman’s coaches after last Saturday’s blowout loss to Michigan State is if any staff shakeups will take place after the season. Or if Beckman will see Year 3 of his contract. The sky isn’t falling in Champaign-Urbana. Yet. Beckman will need to coax a better effort out of his players after a poor second half against Michigan State that looked a lot like how Illinois played down the stretch during the 2012 season.    

Prediction

The Nittany Lions are a confounding bunch. Good one game. Horrible the next. The scholarship reductions imposed by the NCAA — and later retracted by Mark Emmert’s heavily criticized organization — don’t seem to have affected Penn State too much. The loss to Central Florida earlier this year doesn’t look too bad given the Knights are a Top 25 team now, but the loss to Indiana and the rout at Ohio State can’t have too many fans sure of what to expect. Illinois fans know the feeling. The solid play during the nonconference portion of the schedule hasn’t carried over to Big Ten play. Sure, it’s a winnable game for the Illini on Saturday, but the defense continues to spring leaks and the offense can’t stay consistent enough. The Big Ten losing streak reaches 18 games after a disappointing 33-16 loss. (N-G record: 6-1)

Comments

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burkejo wrote on November 01, 2013 at 8:11 am

Sad to say, another loss. Offense plays better, defense...not so much.


Penn State 27


Illinois 24