HQ prediction: Penn State 33, UI 16
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)