Another week is in the history books for the 2011 season and another win was added to the Nittany Lions portfolio. Penn State hasn't been winning pretty, but they've been winning. When it comes down to it that's the most important part of the game isn't it? (Penn State is 5-0 this season in games decided by 10 points or less).
The 34 points next to the visitors sign on the scoreboard at Northwestern wasn't a mirage, it was the Penn State offense finally coming to play. The Penn State defense hasn't played necessarily bad the last two weeks, but they've been lacking that extra pop and it was refreshing to see the offense bail the defense out on occasion. One would hope the offense will only take steps forward and not backward from their performance against the Wildcats.
As noted, the Penn State defense has been giving up some yardage the last two weeks. Against Purdue it was Boilermakers' run game that gave the Nittany Lions some problems, but that was nullified by three Penn State takeaways. Last week against Northwestern it was the passing game that gave Penn State fits at times.
Liberty High School product Dan Persa played well against the Nittany Lions defense going 26-34 for 294 yards and a touchdown. Persa is mobile and broke down the Nittany Lions at times. This is a cause for concern because Illinois' quarterback Nate Scheelhaase is even more mobile than Persa. Scheelhaase has put up good numbers so far this season passing for 1,624 yards through the air with eleven touchdowns. He's also the Figthing Illini leading rusher with 412 yards and five scores. If the Nittany Lions want to stay a top the Big Ten Leaders Division then stopping Scheelhaase has to be the main priority for the Penn State defense.
Although the Penn State "D" has given up some yardage the past two weeks they're still tops in the country in 3 major categories. Penn State is fifth in scoring defense (13.1 ppg), eighth in the nation in total defense (281.9 ypg), and fifth in pass efficiency defense (97.5).
Last week against Northwestern the Penn State offense finally put some points on the board scoring 34 points against the Wildcats, which is more than ten points better then their season average of 23.1. A major reason for the offenses recent success is running back Silas Redd (165-889-6td). Redd rushed for over a hundred yards for the fourth consecutive game this season. He is first Penn State running back to do so since Tony Hunt in 2006. Redd was also added to the Maxwell Award list this week which is the award given to the best running back in the country.
The Penn State offensive line is finally becoming a unit that fans don't have to worry about every Saturday afternoon. After a couple of rough years where the Nittany Lions just seemed to be average up front it seems this unit is becoming the real deal. Penn State leads the Big Ten fewest sacks allowed, giving up less than one sack a game.
Penn State Head Coach Joe Paterno told the media this week that Rob Bolden will be starting at quarterback against Illinois. Starting Bolden (44-98-4-526-1td) under center can only mean one thing. That is the Penn State coaching staff is trying to keep Matt McGloin (82-138-2-1095-7td) honest. McGloin has a history of getting very high on himself.
Don't get me wrong a quarterback should be confident in his abilities, but McGloin needs to realize he is a walk on and a product of a process of elimination at this point. It's obvious McGloin gives Penn State the best chance to win, so fans shouldn't expect many snaps from Bolden against the Illini.
The game vs the Fighting Illini (3:30 p.m. ABC) can't the be taken lightly by the Nittany Lions. Penn State is due for a let down game and Illinois seems like the perfect opponent to fill that void.
The Illini no doubt have a dangerous offense with Scheelhaase at the helm, but it's Illinois' defense that is truly scary. The Illinois rush defense is good and they only let up 101.9 yards on the ground per contest. That means Silas Redd and that improved offensive line will definitely be tested on Saturday. Matt McGloin will also need to bring his "A" game against the Illini with Illinois only letting up 187 yards through the air.
With a win over Illinois on Saturday afternoon Joe Paterno can surpass Eddie Robinson's mark of 408 wins to become the all-time leading wins leader in Division one football history, a record that will probably never be broken.
With the way the Nittany Lions have played this season some would say it's a miracle that Penn State is 7-1 and a top the Big Ten Leaders Division. To those people I say it doesn't matter how you win, all that matters is that you win. The Lions are winning and Happy Valley is certainly happy Penn State is 7-1.