Illinois travels to Happy Valley for a Saturday afternoon rematch with Penn State. Upset winners last season against a young team suffering from injuries and a rookie quarterback, the Illini will be hard pressed to duplicate the feat. The Nittany Lions expect to battle for championships and major bowl bids again this year.
Leading the way is head coach Joe Paterno, who tied Grambling's Eddie Robinson last Saturday for all-time Division-1 wins with 408. He is famous for a conservative game plan using intelligent, talented personnel to out-execute opponents while minimizing mistakes. It is a formula that is difficult to beat.
The PSU defense is always tough to score against, and this year is certainly no exception. They rank in the top 10 in three defensive statistical categories and top 20 in the other two. They give up only 13.1 points and 281.9 yards total offense per game. This is not an ideal defense for an Illini team needing to get its offense untracked.
Leading the way defensively is perhaps the best tackle tandem in the Big 10. Senior Devon Still (6'-5", 310) is 2nd in the B1G with 12 tackles for loss. He was named 1st team Mid-season All-American by ESPN.com, SI.com and CBSsports.com and was also added to the list of Bednarik Award candidates.
Junior Jordan Hill (6'-1", 297) pairs with Still on the inside. He's also among sack leaders in the conference and actually has more tackles and sacks than Still. The defensive ends are junior Sean Stanley (6'-1", 246) and senior Jack Crawford (6'-5", 273). Crawford is also among PSU statistical leaders with 24 tackles, 3.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks.
Penn State is known as "Linebacker U," and it has plenty of firepower both starting and waiting in the wings. Junior outside linebacker Gerald Hodges (6'-2", 234) leads the team with 58 tackles. He has accumulated 8 TFL and 3.5 sacks. He also has one interception. He was named Big 10 Defensive Player of the Week by taking down 14 Northwestern Wildcats last weekend.
Sophomore Glenn Carson (6'-3", 239) is a future star in the middle. He has 42 tackles in 8 games. Senior Nate Stupar (6'-1", 234) is the most experienced of the starters. He has 4.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions. Backups will likely see time also.
The secondary starters are all seniors. Hero Drew Astorino (5'-10", 207) has been a thorn in the Illini's sign throughout his career. He's tied with Carson for second on the team with 42 tackles. He also has an interception. Nick Sukay (6'-1", 219) is on Phil Steele's Third Team Mid-season All-Big Ten team. Cornerbacks are D'Anton Lynn (6'-1", 208) and Chaz Powell (6'-1", 206).
The offense is much more potent this season as the team has embraced two quarterbacks sharing the load. Junior Matt McGloin (6'-1", 211) didn't play against Illinois last year but made a big spash late in the season and has continued to improve. McGloin has completed 81 of 138 passes for 1095 yards and seven touchdowns with just 2 interceptions. He is hitting 58.7% of his passes. Sophomore Rob Bolden (6'-3", 216) doesn't have McGloin's passing statistics, but he is more athletic and can make plays with his feet.
Sophomore Silas Redd (5'-10", 209) is the latest in a long line of quick, slashing running backs in Happy Valley. He now has 4 consecutive games over 125 yards each. He leads the B1G with 869 yards on 165 carries and 6 touchdowns, averaging 5.3 a pop. His 108.6 yards per game average ranks 16th in the nation.
PSU has plenty of depth at running back. Next on the depth chart are sophomore Curtis Dukes (6'-1", 237) and senior Stephfon Green (5'-10", 193), who's speed has troubled many teams in his career but missed some games this season with injury. Dukes has accumulated 212 yards and one TD in 35 carries backing Redd.
Senior fullback Joe Suhey (6'-1", 222) is involved both in the running and passing games. Junior Michael Zordich (6'-1", 241) is a quality backup. The tight ends include senior Andrew Szczerba (6'-6", 266) and sophomore Kevin Haplea (6'-4", 251).
Penn State has a factory line producing offensive linemen. Seniors graduate and are replaced with experienced upperclassmen, most of whom have been redshirted. This year's group includes four seniors and a junior. Quinn Barham (6'-3:, 304) is at left tackle, the left guard is Johnnie Troutman (6'-4", 314), Matt Stankiewitch (6'-3", 299) is the junior center, the right guard is DeOn'tae Okoli (6'-4", 293), and Chima Okoli (6'-4", 293) is stationed at right tackle. They have combined to allow only 7 sacks on the year, tops in the conference.
The receiver corps will have to do without one of the best in Penn State history. Senior Derek Moye (6'-5", 210) has missed a couple games with a broken bone in his foot. PSU was hopeful, but he has been ruled out for the UI game. He is on the Biletnikoff Watch List and is third in school history with 2,226 career receiving yards. In his six games, he has 28 catches for 485 yards and 3 touchdowns, an average of 80.8 yards a game.
Even in his absence, the Nittany Lions are deep and talented at the wideouts. Among those who see the most time are soph Brandon Moseby-Felder (6'-2", 191), soph Christian Kuntz (6'-4", 214), junior Justin Brown (6'-3", 214), junior Devon Smith (5'-7", 155), soph Shawney Kersey (6'-1", 198) and true freshman Bill Belton (5'-10", 206).
Brown has 26 receptions for 343 yards and a touchdown, a 42.9 yard average. He is also PSU's primary punt returner. Smith has caught 16 passes for 297 yards and two TDs while backing up at both punt and kick return.
Special Teams are special at Penn State also. Sophomore Anthony Fera (6'-2", 215) does both punting and placekicking. He leads the B1G in field goal percentage, hitting 11 of 12 attempts. He is also averaging 43.6 yards per punt. Freshman Adrian Amos (6'-0", 205) joins Powell at kick return. Powell ranks #7 in the nation in returns, averaging 31.6 yards per effort.
The game will be played before more than 100,000 rabid PSU fans. The Nittany Lions seek to give Paterno the all-time record for wins, and they seek payback for the embarrassing loss to the Illini last year at home. The Illini have their work cut out for them.