FACTS & STATS: Site: Beaver Stadium (106,572) -- University Park, Pennsylvania. Television: ESPN. Home Record: Illinois 3-2, PSU 3-1. Away Record: Illinois 0-1, PSU 0-2. Neutral Record: Illinois 0-1, PSU 1-0. Conference Record: Illinois 0-3, PSU 1-2. Series: Penn State leads, 16-4.
GAME NOTES: Coming off their most lopsided loss in quite some time, the Penn State Nittany Lions will try to rebound on Saturday afternoon when they host Illinois in a Big Ten Conference clash at Beaver Stadium.
Illinois has also fallen into a bit of a rut and enters the weekend hoping to snap a three-game slide. Each of those losses was more lopsided than the previous one, culminating in Saturday's 42-3 setback to Michigan State during Homecoming. Now, the Fighting Illini will hit the road for two straight and three of their next four games.
Penn State had two weeks to prepare for last week's contest at No. 4 Ohio State and was coming off a thrilling quadruple-overtime win against nationally-ranked Michigan in its previous contest. However, the Nittany Lions were throttled soundly by OSU, 63-14, as they allowed an opponent to eclipse 50 points for just the third time since 1900. However, dating back to the first two games of the 2012 season, Penn State has gone 5-0 in the next game following a loss under coach Bill O'Brien.
PSU has dominated the head-to-head series with Illinois, 16-4. The Nittany Lions have won seven of eight meetings in State College, including a 10-7 decision in former head coach Joe Paterno's final game.
The Illinois offense turned in its worst performance of the season against Michigan State, as the team managed only eight first downs and 128 yards of total offense and failed to get into the end zone. Granted, the Spartans boast the nation's top-ranked defense. However, the Fighting Illini shot themselves in the foot with penalties and generally poor execution. Nathan Scheelhaase threw for only 103 yards and was intercepted, while Josh Ferguson's 26 rushing yards represented a team-high.
Despite those sub-par numbers, Scheelhaase still ranks in the top 30 in the nation in passing efficiency (151.08, 26th) and completion percentage (65.3 percent, 27th), while sitting fourth in the Big Ten in passing yards (235.6 ypg) and total offense (245.7 ypg).
After the Illinois offense was stopped at the goal line early in the second quarter, Michigan State got the ball back and effectively took the wind out of the Illini's sails with a 99-yard scoring drive. MSU went on to rack up 29 first downs and 477 yards of total offense, nearly doubling up the Illini in time of possession (39:06-20:54). Illinois struggled to stop both the run and the pass, as the Spartans amassed 269 yards and three touchdowns on the ground (4.9 ypc), and 208 yards and another three scores through the air. Linebacker Mason Monheim led the way with a game-high 14 tackles in the loss, while fellow linebacker Jonathan Brown recorded 10 stops and a forced fumble.
Brown, an All-America and Butkus Award candidate, leads the conference with 76 tackles (10.9 per game) and is the only player in the nation averaging over 10.0 tackles per game with at least eight tackles for loss.
While Penn State ran into a buzz saw against Ohio State, junior running back Bill Belton managed 98 yards on 22 carries in his first start of the season. It marked the most rushing yards allowed by the Buckeyes this season. He had 78 yards on 18 attempts at halftime before the game got really out of hand in the second half. Junior wideout Allen Robinson also turned in a strong performance with a career-high tying 12 receptions for 173 yards and a TD.
Robinson tops the Big Ten in receiving yardage (125.4 avg.) and receptions (7.9 avg.) The reigning all-conference receiver has gone over 100 yards in five of seven games this season. True freshman QB Christian Hackenberg, despite throwing for only 112 yards with two interceptions against OSU, remains the Big Ten leader in passing (254.9 ypg) and completions (144).
There certainly was not much reason for the Nittany Lions defense to celebrate following last week's shellacking. Going back more than a century, only two other opponents lit up the scoreboard against Penn State like the Buckeyes did (WVU scored 51 on Oct. 29, 1988 and Navy scored 55 on Oct. 7 1944.) All told, OSU posted 686 total yards, breaking the previous record against Penn State of 656 yards by the Doug Flutie-led Boston College Eagles in 1982. Sophomore cornerback Jordan Lucas stood out, as he notched 11 tackles for his first career game with double-digit stops. Junior safety Jesse Della Valle chipped in with a personal-best nine tackles in the loss.
Both of these teams are coming off lopsided losses, and in Penn State's case, a once promising season has gone awry. Still, the Nittany Lions have more playmakers than Illinois, and they'll also be playing in the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Penn State 27, Illinois 17
Saturday, November 2, 12 p.m. (et)