Flying High After Win

Illinois came along at the perfect time for rebounding Penn State. The Nittany Lions took full advantage, charging to an easy win and doing it with a touch of class. Their Big Ten destiny remains in their own hands.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Down 28-3 early in the second quarter Saturday night, Illinois decided it was time to open its bag of tricks.

Punter Steve Weatherford, facing fourth down at the Illini 30, took off on a fake and gained 7 yards for a first down.

Whistle! Illinois was penalized for illegal procedure, wiping out the play, which pretty much summed up the Illini's feeble night.

Penn State rolled to a 63-10 victory at Memorial Stadium.

Credit the Nittany Lions for coming out strong and clearly leaving their disheartening last-second loss to Michigan last week behind.

"We were ready to play Monday," senior cornerback Alan Zemaitis said. "We wanted to get that bad taste out of our mouths and make a statement on the road."

They did.

The Lions played a solid game on both sides of the ball. Their passing game clicked. Their run game was effective. Their defense was suffocating, at least after allowing the Illini to control the ball and move into field-goal range on the game's first drive, and their special teams were solid.

But it's difficult to put too much stock into this performance because Illinois, the worst defensive team in the Big Ten and one of the worst in the country, truly is awful.

Joe Paterno knows a beaten team when he sees one, and leading 42-3 late in the first half, he admonished his assistants for throwing with such a big lead.

"I was angry with our offensive coaches because I didn't think we needed it," he said.

Illini defenders were not even in the same zip code with the Lion receivers as Michael Robinson threw four touchdown passes in the first quarter.

Worse, Illinois could not even line up right. Including the aforementioned gaffe, it was penalized three times for not having enough players on the line of scrimmage for its punts.

Illinois was penalized nine times for 78 yards -- four times on special teams alone -- in the first half.

"I know people are going to say it was Illinois, but the way we came into a Homecoming environment and handled business was important," Zemaitis said. "It was almost flawless."

The crowd booed the Illini at halftime, and most were long gone midway through the third quarter.

Paterno took the sympathetic route.

"I like Ron Zook, and I thought he got a dirty deal at Florida," he said. "He's got to come here and rebuild a program."

Meanwhile, Penn State's offensive output had its sports information personnel scrambling to the record books.

For openers, they determined Robinson's six touchdowns in the first half -- four by air, two by land in which he scored untouched both times, including once from 31 yards -- tied a mark that stood for almost 90 years.

Yep, Harry Robb was credited with six touchdowns against Gettysburg in 1917.

Whether the Illini could have stopped Robb or Gettysburg is open to conjecture.

The Lions' 56 first-half points also set a record, breaking the previous high of 55 against Fordham in 1940.

With victory well in hand, Penn State, showing class, used the entire second half to give its offensive and defensive backups playing time.

The cushion provided Anthony Morelli with his longest Big Ten stint, along with allowing Austin Scott and Rodney Kinlaw to shake off some rust.

"It was good for morale," Paterno said.

Penn State hasn't had too many Big Ten laughers these last few years, so the Illini came along at the perfect time, and the Nittany Lions took full advantage.

They got their starters some must-needed rest in the second half, and they improved their record to 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the Big Ten.

"We control our own destiny," offensive tackle Levi Brown said. "If we win our last four games, we win the Big Ten."

All is well in Happy Valley entering a home stretch in which the Lions have as much right to think they can win the conference as anybody else.

They left their locker room wearing ear-to-ear grins.

Paterno, who picked up career victory No. 350, only hoped the Lions had a more reliable aircraft than the one that caused a five-hour delay at Michigan last week.

"If we just have a plane that works," he said, "we'll be all set."

What a difference a week makes.

FightOnState contributor Neil Rudel covers Penn State football for the Altoona Mirror. He can be reached at nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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