STATE COLLEGE The 2011 Penn State football team has taken a page from late Raiders owner Al Davis' playbook.
That's because this year's Nittany Lions squad "just wins baby."
It's not been pretty, but Penn State is 6-0 in games decided by ten points or less after Saturday's 10-7 win against the Illini. The Lions now hold a two-game lead in the Big Ten Leaders division.
The first half between the Nittany Lions and Fighting Illini was less than exciting to say the least. Neither team could get anything going on the offensive side of the football in the first half and once again the Penn State offense showed they still have a lot of problems heading into the bye week.
The first quarter was ugly for Penn State with Nittany Lions quarterback Matt McGloin going just 4-12 for a dismal 33 yards in the frame. The Illinois offense was even worse, not gaining a single first down in the quarter while standout quarterback Nate Scheelhaase passed for negative eight yards.
Scheelhaase was a big concern for the Penn State defense going into the game, but it constantly made Scheelhaase uncomfortable in the pocket and did a good job of containing the dual-threat player.
The second quarter was much like the first and Penn State and Illinois went into the half 0-0. The last time the Nittany Lions were involved in a game where it was 0-0 at the half was in a 1984 match-up with the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Penn State scored its fewest points (10) in a win since a 9-0 victory in 1990, also against the Tide.
Illinois was the first to strike in the second-half with a Scheelhaase touchdown pass to tight end Spencer Harris. Illinois had success against the Nittany Lions in the run game using an option read type style of offense.
Scheelhaase faked a hand-off to Jason Ford and found Spencer wide open in the middle of the endzone with 3:32 in the third.
Penn State answered back in the fourth, blocking an Illinois punt and getting the ball at the Illini 31 yard line. The PSU offense moved the ball down to the five, but their redzone issues continued and they couldn't get the ball into the endzone.
Anthony Fera kicked a 30-yard field goal and the PSU defense once again was put into a challenging position.
The defense didn't disappoint, giving the Penn State offense the ball back after an Illini punt with 3:05 left in the fourth. After a key pass interference call against Illinois on wide out Derek Moye, running back Silas Redd punched the ball in from three yards out to put the Nittany Lions up 10-7.
Redd rushed for over a 100 yards for the fifth consecutive game, being the first PSU player to do so since Curtis Enis.
Illinois got the ball back with 1:08 left on the clock and drove the ball down to the PSU 25 yard line. This set up a potential game-tying field goal by Illini kicker Derek Dimke.
With a hundred snowballs on the field and a swarming student section later Dimke's kick glanced off the right goal post and Penn State squeaked out another Big Ten victory.
State created four turnovers in the game against Illinois and has 24 takeaways on the season. That's seven more than they had all of last season.
In two weeks Nebraska comes to Happy Valley for a very important Big Ten match-up on November 12.
The Huskers will probably beat Northwestern this week, setting up a game between two one-loss opponents in State College.