Saturday, October 31st 2015
12:00PM (EST), ESPN2
Andrew Nelson (LT)
Akeel Lynch (RB)
There has been some bad blood between Penn State and Illinois in recent years, as former head coach Tim Beckman showed up at University Park with his coaching staff and a stack of scholarship offers, seemingly within an hour of the NCAA announcing its sanctions against PSU. That heat may have cooled a bit now that Beckman has coached his way out of a job and PSU has a new coaching staff of its own, but this should still be a good matchup between two flawed teams competing for pride and better bowl games.
Illinois went 12-24 under Beckman in regular season games. Although his team's record improved each year (2-10, 4-8, 6-6) and he managed to reach a bowl game, Beckman was not well liked and had an abysmal 4-20 record within the Big Ten. When allegations surface that he had pressured players into playing hurt and interfered with medical decisions, he was terminated prior to the start of the 2015 season. Since then, interim head coach Bill Cubit has been running the show. A Philly native, Cubit had been the offensive coordinator under Tim Beckman at Illinois before his field promotion to interim head coach.
Saquon Barkley vs. Illinois defense:
In a rare fit of helpfulness, James Franklin offered up the gem that Saquon Barkley should be much healthier on Saturday than he was against Maryland. That does not bode well for the Native Peoples of the American Midwest. The Illinois defense is pretty decent against the run, giving up an average of just 3.92 yards per carry. However, Barkly is currently averaging 7.18 yards per carry through six games. Advantage? Barkley.
Chris Godwin vs. Geronimo Allison:
Besides having an awesome name, Geronimo is probably Illinois' greatest offensive threat. Averaging 100 yards per game, the 6'4" receiver has the frame to make plays over shorter defenders. His PSU equivalent, Chris Godwin, has been having a great season in his own right. A year after being overshadowed by DaeSean Hamilton, Godwin has 628 yards and 2 touchdowns so far this season. Both players will be competing against quality defenses, although I think that Hackenberg's connection with Godwin will give him the better numbers in this game.
PSU O-Line vs. Chunky Clements (NT):
There is something just too perfect about a talented nose tackle being named Chunky. Clements, in addition to having the second coolest name on the team, has 8.5 tackles for loss and 4 QB hurries this season. That's pretty good for a nose tackle, and Penn State's offensive line could have a difficult time keeping him in check. Luckily the interior of the offensive line (Mangiro, Laurent, Gaia) should stay the same as last week, which may help against a strong pass rusher like Clements. Paris Palmer will probably be back at LT, with Mahon filling in for Nelson at RT if he is unable to go.
PSU D-Line vs. Illinois O-Line:
Illinois has a good offensive line-they've given up two less sacks through 7 games than PSU surrendered against Temple. However, the Penn State defensive linemen have been nearly unstoppable this season. Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel dominate the interior; Johnson through size and power, and Zettel through speed, technique and sheer violence. On the outside, Carl Nassib has been every right tackle's nightmare, racking up 12.5 sacks through 7 games.
Advantage? PSU D-Line
Penn State opened as four point favorites in this matchup, and last I heard the Vegas line had reached seven points. Penn State's defense looked flat and shaky against Maryland after losing an emotional game in Columbus the week before. I doubt they let Illinois get 30 points at Beaver Stadium. I expect that Barkley will break off some major runs and Hackenberg will continue his statistical improvement.
It's a bold prediction, but I think Penn State will cover the spread and then some. Hack throws for a pair of TDs and Barkley runs for one. Big Toe tacks on a pair of field goals, and the Penn State defense comes up big with three sacks and an interception to hold Illinois to a single Lunt TD and a field goal.
Penn State 27, Illinois 10.