Penn State is third in the Big 10 in total defense, but they and Illinois bring up the rear in total offense. The Nittany Lions have had a few injuries, and they are playing a true freshman quarterback. So their problems offensively are predictable. But they are still an outstanding team, one that will be difficult to beat in front of a sold out crowd on their Homecoming.
The Illini's improving defense may have to rule the day if they are to win the game. Penn State freshman Rob Bolden (6'-3", 221) has shown great potential at quarterback, but inconsistency has been a problem. Actually, Bolden has played well overall, completing 58.7% of his passes for an average of 207 yards a game. And he has good speed on runs. Once he learns to make the big plays under duress, he will be outstanding.
Evan Royster (6'-1", 218) is back for his final season at running back. He is the 6th Nittany Lion in history to rush for over 3000 yards. Named to the All-Big 10 first team in 2009, he is averaging 70.6 yards a game while sharing time with speedsters Stephfon Green (5'-10", 197) and freshman Silas Redd (5'-10", 197). Royster has a knack for finding small creases in the defense and bursting through quickly. All defenses must gear to stop him.
Receivers Derek Moye (6'-5", 202), Chaz Powell (6'-1", 196), Brett Brackett (6'-6", 242) and Graham Zug (6'-2", 185) are all in at least their fourth years on campus. Moye and Brackett lead the way with 19 and 17 catches respectively. Sophomore speedsters Justin Brown (6'-3", 216) and little Devon Smith (5'-7", 157) are both in double figures in receptions and double as punt returners.
Tight end is a position of concern for PSU as they lost their top player to injury. Kevin Haplea (6'-4", 249) starts, backed by Mark Wedderburn (6'-6", 229). Legacy Joe Suhey (6'-1", 227) comes in to block from the fullback slot.
The starting offensive line is composed of five starters all of whom are in at least their fourth years. They are led by preseason All-American right guard Stefen Wisniewski (6'-3", 306). The other guard is Johnnie Troutman (6'-4", 323), while Doug Klopacz (6'-3", 286) plays left guard. The tackles are Quinn Barham (6'-3", 298) and Chima Okoli (6'-4", 291).
The Penn State defense is outstanding. Their players have been in the same system, with the same coaches throughout their careers, so they are smart and always in the correct position. They are fifth in the conference in rush defense and second in pass defense.
The Nittany Lions have probably had more top linebackers on previous teams than Illinois, and both schools claim to be "Linebacker U." This year's anointed are inside linebacker Chris Colasanti (6'-2", 241) and outside backers Michael Mauti (6'-2", 229) and Bani Gbadyu (6'-1", 241).
Colasanti ranks sixth in the Big 10 in total tackles. The junior Mauti is the only non senior among the starters. Nate Stupar (6'-1", 231) and precocious freshman Khairi Fortt (6'-2", 233) play frequently as well.
The defensive line is experienced also. Ollie Ogbu (6'-1", 300) and Devon Still (6'-5", 311) anchor from their tackle spots. Juniors Pete Massaro (6'-4", 255) and Jack Crawford (6'-5", 271) start at the ends. They have excellent backups as well.
Some have questioned the strength of the PSU defensive secondary, but it must be doing something right to be ranked so highly. Junior free safety Nick Sukay (6'-1", 209) is tied for second in the conference in interceptions. Senior Drew Astorino (5'-10", 193) plays strong safety, affectionately called "Hero" at State College. The cornerbacks are junior D'Anton Lynn (6'-1", 200) and sophomore Stephon Morris (5'-8", 185).
Penn State also fields quality special teams. Senior Collin Wagner ranks fifth in the conference in scoring, hitting 11 field goals and 8 extra points. Redshirt freshman Anthony Fera has been less fortunate, averaging 39.0 yards per punt.
The Nittany Lions rank first in the Big 10 in kick coverage. Devon Smith is second individually in punt returns, averaging 12.7 yards per attempt. Powell is third in kickoff returns, aided in part by a 100 yard return for touchdown against Youngstown State.
The Illini will have to play their best game to date to win.