Illinois whips struggling Nittany Lions
STATE COLLEGE - This time, Illinois gave Penn State a taste of its own medicine.
The Fighting Illini dominated the Nittany Lions with their ground game and shut down PSU to end years of frustration at Beaver Stadium.
The Illini's convincing 33-13 victory Saturday was their first in Happy Valley in seven attempts, and in front of a PSU Homecoming crowd to boot.
While the Illini victory might not have been a total surprise, given the Lions' struggles this season, the way they dominated the Lions raised eyebrows.
Last year the Lions using their rushing attack (they racked up 338 yards) and defense to keep the Illini at bay.
This time, the roles were reversed.
The tone was set early, when the Illini went for a fourth down and one on their own 29 on the game's first series and got it. The Lions later tried to pick up a fourth and one on the Illini 42, but Stephfon Green was stopped short by linebacker Martez Wilson.
Illinois (3-2 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) played with the sense of urgency the now 3-3 Lions were never able to match.
"Obviously it was a big win for us," said Illinois coach Ron Zook. "I think we talked about all week that Illinois has never won here and we had a chance to come up here and play a good football team, a well-coached football team ... and do something that has never been done at the University of Illinois."
The injury-plagued Lions looked like a team in desperate need of the bye that they have this week on the Big Ten schedule.
Statistics can be misleading, but not in this case.
First downs: Illinois 23, Penn State 7.
Rushing yards: Illinois 282, Penn State 65.
Time of possession: Illinois 38:12, Penn State 21:48.
"We stunk. I did a lousy job," said a disappointed PSU coach Joe Paterno. "I thought we were ready, we just didn't play very well.
"I could make a million excuses. We had our opportunities; we just didn't stay on our blocks. We didn't have a good day throwing the ball. We didn't do a great job play calling. The kids didn't play very well and Illinois played a really tough football game, a solid game."
Except for the Lions' 80 yard Rob Bolden to Derek Moye TD bomb in the second quarter, the Illini, led by linebackers Nate Bussey and Wilson, clamped down on the PSU offense.
In fact, the Lions mustered just two field goals following recoveries of Jack Ramsey's fumbled punt receptions deep in Illini territory, continuing their red zone woes.
Once, after Michael Zordich recovered the flubbed punt on the Illini 9, the Lions moved a measley five yards before Collin Wagner kicked a field goal.
Bolden had a rough day, hitting on just 8 of 21 passes for 142 yards before giving way to Kevin Newsome in the fourth quarter.
One of Bolden's attempts was batted up in the air and returned 16 yards for a TD by Bussey.
The Lions' defense, usually their saving grace, fared no better. Mikel Leshore gashed PSU for 119 yards and Troy Pollard added 55.
Redshirt freshman QB Nathan Scheelhaase came up with key runs and just enough pass completions (he was 15 of 19 for 151 yards) to keep the sticks moving.
Scheelhaase connected with A.J. Jenkins for one TD, and another scoring pass came on an option play from running back Jason Ford to tight end Evan Wilson.
The Lions D also absorbed more than hurt pride. Defensive ends Eric Lattimore and Pete Massaro, tackle Jordan Hill, safety Nick Sukay and hero back Andrew Dailey all were dinged up against the Illini.
The injury list already included end Jack Crawford and linebackers Michael Mauti, Bani Gbadyu and Gerald Hodges, who did not play at all. End Sean Stanley and cornerback Derrick Thomas are suspended, further cutting into the Lions' depth on defense.
With the bye week coming up, Paterno suggested it's time to take a hard look at his squad. With six games remaining, reaching the six wins needed to become bowl eligible will be tough if the Lions continue to perform like this.
"We'll go back and make sure we are playing the right people," he said. "We'll take a good look at tapes and look at what kids can do. Maybe we're asking some kids to do things they can't handle.
"We're not making any progress. I thought by this stage we would be a pretty good football team. I didn't think we would be great, but I thought we would be pretty good but we're not. We're not getting any better and that's the discouraging part."
"I think, physically and mentally, the off week is something we need," said Lions linebacker Chris Colasanti, who made a team-high 18 tackles. "I think guys are going to get healed up, and we'll get back to full capacity. Next week, we need to come to practice and make a decision to get better. We need to go out each day and practice with a purpose."