Penn State Football: Five Keys To Beating Illinois
Penn State is looking to bounce back from its 63-14 loss to Ohio State this weekend as the Nittany Lions take on Illinois. While no team is an automatic win, the friendly walls of Beaver Stadium coupled with Illinois' 3-4 record is a welcome sight for the Nittany Lions.
The Illini do have a few weapons to watch out for and Penn State has been far from a perfect team. If Penn State wants to improve to 5-3 on the year it'll take a full team effort, but the keys to victory this week are far more obtainable than they have been the past few weeks. A win on Saturday sets Penn State up nicely for a chance to win three straight games before facing two tough opponents in Nebraska and Wisconsin to close out the year.
Penn State's offense might not be the pinnacle of the sport at times, but the Illinois' defense is plenty porous more often than not. The Illini defense has give up 39 or more points in each of their last four games and have given up 40 or more five times this season. If Penn State can come out swinging and take advantage of a struggling defensive unit, it'll go a long way towards preventing Saturday's game from turning into a closer contest than it really should be. Illinois gives up 139 yards on the ground per game, only 93rd best in the nation, so Penn State doesn't have to feel limited to only a passing attack.
Don't Get Counter Punched:
For as bad as Illinois might be on paper, Penn State can't afford to let those thoughts dictate the effort on the field. Illinois' quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has been in the Big Ten for a while now and has thrown 46 career touchdowns including 12 this season. Penn State's pass defense is coming off one of the program's worst performances ever, and while it's safe to assume the Nittany Lions will be hyped up for Saturday's noon kick, mistakes and mental errors could cost Penn State is Scheelhaase is playing well. The key to preventing that is staying focused play after play. Penn State will give up points but the Illini offense is far from the best the Nittany Lions have seen. Scheelhaase has helped Illinois earn the 43rd best passing attack in the nation at 261.3 yard per game a number plenty high enough for Penn State's defense to pay attention to.
Second Half Not A Second Start:
Penn State has had some slow starts to open up the third quarter and will need to reverse that trend in order to keep any first half momentum going. If Penn State has the lead at the half, keeping the pedal on the floor will be important to preventing any sort of Illinois' comeback. Early second half turnovers can be costly not only on the scoreboard but the momentum department as well.
Let Them Make Mistakes:
If Illinois is going to win it's going to happen because Penn State made mistakes and turned the ball over. If Penn State wants to ensure that Saturday goes in its favor, letting Scheelhaase and Illinois make mistakes will go a long way towards that goal. Football is often a game of which team makes fewer mistakes and Illinois might have to force some things to win the game. If Penn State can hang on to the ball and avoid bad penalties it will make things all that much harder for the Illini.
Pick It Up:
Illinois is a team that likes to blitz the quarterback. If Penn State is going to win it'll mean picking up blitzes and giving quarterback Christian Hackenberg time to throw the ball. Hackenberg has a good sense of when he is getting pressured and an ability to step up in the pocket, but things will be a lot easier if Penn State's offensive line and running backs can handle any 5 or 6 man rushes.