Penn State Football: Illinois A Welcome Sight For Nittany Lions Following Loss
Penn State has been far from a perfect team this year, but this weekend's opponent is a far cry from the No. 4 ranked Buckeyes.
The Fighting Illini haven't packed much of a punch this season en-route to a 3-4 record padded largely by wins against three significantly lesser opponents. Having lost four the the last five games it hasn't quite been the season second year head coach Tim Beckman was hoping for. So far Illinois has been outscored in conference play 137-54 having given up 40 or more points five times this season, 30 or more in all but one game.
The Nittany Lions are coming off an embarrassing loss, but not one that was exactly unexpected. If Penn State can knock of Illinois it'll make the Nittany Lions 6-1 under Bill O'Brien following defeat. In terms of the immediate future the Illinois contest marks the start of a three-game span of very winnable games. Penn State may not be bowl bound, but an eight win season isn't out of the question. Sixteen wins over the first two years of NCAA sanctions would be far from the worst scenario imaginable.
What does Beckman think of Penn State following the loss to Ohio State?
"I think they've got some new faces, they have four offensive linemen back that we played against last year, so they have some familiar faces, they've got a great wide receiver, got a freshman quarterback, and probably things weren't clicking for them last week as you watch that film, but, boy, did they play a good game against Michigan." Beckman said.
"Defensively, you've got up-front guys that are older, that are senior-type guys that are older that are good football players. You've got a linebacker that's back, and a secondary that's a little bit like ours, got some new faces that continue to be building. They're older than we are; they've got six or seven seniors they start on defense and I think five on offense. I still think Penn State is Penn State. They are very physical, they do what they do well, which they always have, and I think Coach (Bill) O'Brien has done a great job with this program."
And as far as Penn State's freshman star quarterback Christian Hackenberg?
"For a freshmen, he's got a very, very strong arm, I think he's got great intelligence for a freshman, and you can see why he's earned that opportunity to be a starting quarterback at Penn State as a freshman."
Illinois, despite the team's general struggles, still has a talented quarterback of its own. Nathan Scheelhaase will test Penn State's defense but may not be enough to knock the Nittany Lions off on his own. Even with Scheelhaase's passing skills, Illinois has just the 43rd best pass offense in the nation.
Either way, with Illinois coming to town for the first time since Illini coaches took to campus to find possible transfer targets, Penn State fans might have a little extra enthusiasm come Saturday's noon kick.