ILLINOIS: Game Breakdown

The good, the bad and the ugly from a game in which Michael Mauti and the Nittany Lions delivered a heaping helping of payback to the Illini. Video interviews included.


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- It is one thing to talk the talk, as Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti did in Chicago in late July. It is quite another to walk the walk, as Mauti did here Saturday.

In fact, he walked all over hapless Illinois, leading the Nittany Lions to a 35-7 victory as they improved to 3-2 overall and 1-0 in the Big Ten under new head coach Bill O'Brien.

Back in July, Mauti made waves at Big Ten Media Days in the Windy City with strong comments about conference teams that were trying to pilfer PSU players in the wake of NCAA sanctions against the school. He was obviously referring primarily to the Illini and head coach Tim Beckman, as a significant portion of the program's staff showed up in State College (and, players contend, on campus) in an effort to recruit Nittany Lions.

Everything will be settled on the field, he said at the time. And Saturday, it was.

“Obviously, to play against these guys, it was sweet,” Mauti said.

The senior intercepted two passes, returning one 99 yards. He also had six tackles and half a sack. And if fear factor had been taken into account, he would have been credited with a caused fumble. Early in the game he was bearing down on an Illini punt return man and the player in question just muffed the ball. Penn State recovered.

“Any time you have things to say, it's very important to go out there and back it up,” O'Brien said. “That's kind of what life's all about, in a way. He's a guy who doesn't have a lot of problems backing things up.”

Check out our game breakdown.

MAN OF THE HOUR: Who else but Mauti? We'd call him a one-man wrecking crew, but that would not be fair to the defensive mates who also played well.

CLOSE SECOND: Power back Zach Zwinak broke whatever was left of Illinois' spirit in the second half, rushing for 51 of his game-high 100 yards. He also scored the first two rushing TDs of his career.

CLOSE THIRD: Tight end Matt Lehman took advantage of the Illini's focus on other receivers, pulling in a career-high five passes for 70 yards and a score. He took a huge hit on the TD but returned to the game.

TURNING POINT: When Beckman and his staff made their recruiting trip to Happy Valley.

SOLID STRATEGY: Penn State averaged only 3.3 yards per carry in the game, but part of that was because QB Matt McGloin was sacked three times. The one-two rushing punch of starter Bill Belton and Zwinak took its toll on Illinois' defense.

SOLID STRATEGY II: McGloin ran the NASCAR (hurry-up) offense to great effect, especially in the second half. Again, it seemed to sap the energy of the Illini defenders.

NUMBERS GAME: With Illinois unable to get much going on the ground, QB Nathan Scheelhaase was forced to pass 47 times. He completed 29 for 270 yards. But he also had two interceptions against no TDs.

BUSINESS AS USUAL: Starting LBs Glenn Carson and Gerald Hodges each had nine tackles for the Lions.

SPECIAL DELIVERY: Evan Lewis had a 26-yard punt return that helped set up Penn State's second touchdown.

WHAT'S UP WITH?

• PSU kicker Sam Ficken continuing to struggle. He missed a 47-yard field goal and had an 18-yarder blocked.

• Penn State trotting Ficken out on first-and-goal from the Illinois 1 with one second left in the first half following Mauti's 99-yard interception return. We actually have an answer for this one. O'Brien admitted he thought the ball was spotted on the 2 and said in retrospect he should have gone for the TD.

• The Illinois receivers stinking up the joint. They dropped at least a handful of passes.

• The cheap shot DB Earnest Thomas put on Lehman in the end zone. Credit the officials for throwing him out of the game.

HIT SQUAD: Mauti wiped out Illini punt return man Tommy Davis in the third quarter. Earlier, Davis fumbled when Mauti was bearing down on him.

HIDDEN HERO: WR Alex Kenney had four catches for 24 yards.

LOST IN THE SHUFFLE: Yes, the PSU offensive line gave up three sacks. But that was due in large part to McGloin holding on to the ball too long. Overall, the O-line did well against a defensive front that was supposed to be Illinois' strength.

DID YOU NOTICE?

• That O'Brien ran across the field after the game and gave Beckman a quick handshake but barely looked at him. The Big Ten requires the postgame handshake. Beckman spent a lot of time near midfield before the game, but O'Brien never went near him.

• That Penn State continued to rotate offensive linemen. Eric Shrive (guard/tackle) and Donovan Smith (tackle) were backups who saw the most action when the game was still a game.

• That Smith, Belton, TB Derek Day and DE Sean Stanley were all back after missing various amounts of time with injuries.

• That TE Kyle Carter lined up at fullback twice and caught passes from the formation each time.

• That Penn State continued to use its “Roadrunner” defense on most third downs (and sometimes earlier). In it, S Malcolm Willis and Carson leave the field. CB Adrian Amos moves to safety. Da'Quan Davis takes over at corner and Mike Hull at MLB.

• That Ryan Nowicki, the offensive lineman who created such a stir when he transferred from PSU to Illinois before the season, was not even listed on the depth chart.

• That the stadium was half empty 15 minutes before kickoff. It filled up a bit. But the official attendance of 46,734 seemed way too high.

• That defensive end Pete Massaro missed his third straight game due to knee and shoulder injuries. He was not on the trip.

• That walk-on J.R. Refice, who has played defensive line, fullback and (most recently) tight end on the scout team in his career, was on the 70-man travel roster. It was an honor for being named “Dirty Show Player of the Week” by the coaching staff. O'Brien and company now call the scout team The Dirty Show.

UNANSWERED QUESTION: How would this game have been had Penn State done better than 4 of 7 in the red zone? Of course, Illinois was even worse at 0 of 3.


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