Download the full FOS Blitz gameday guide at the link below, or simply read Nirav and Mark's game preview below.
ND: Illinois might not be the Rose Bowl team that everyone thought but a road win in the Big Ten after a tough, emotional loss to Iowa is a good thing regardless of the opponent. The Lions are a bit banged up but they get a nice home game with the Eastern Illinois Panthers, who are ranked in the top 25 in the FCS division. The Panthers characterize so many FCS teams that are loaded with FBS transfers that were looking for playing time but didn't want to waive a year of eligibility.
MH: I saw Illinois as a crossroads for Penn State. Sure, the Illini are not a great team, but Penn State could have easily folded, even more so, considering the tight game they were in at halftime. However, the squad opted to come out tough and put a lot of points on the board. Now they face Eastern Illinois and as I have said all year, PSU cannot afford to take any team lightly.
Who: Eastern Illinois at No. 14 Penn State
When: October 10th at 12:00pm ET and 9:00 am PT
Where: Beaver Stadium in University Park, PA
Series: First meeting
TV: ESPN Classic
Line: There is no line on this game
Other Big Games This Weekend:
ND: All eyes have been focused on Florida to see if Tebow will be ready for this week's monster matchup between Florida and LSU. Florida is ranked No. 1 and LSU is ranked No. 4. This is probably the biggest game in the SEC until the Championship game. I think Florida has too many playmakers on defense and I'm not convinced that LSU is all that good. They have moved up in the rankings because others have fallen out. Their biggest wins to date are Georgia and Washington, who they beat by 7 and 8 points respectively. And, let's face it; Georgia and Washington are not contenders in their own conference let alone the national picture.
MH: Yeah that Florida vs. LSU game will have the nation watching. A few other games to watch are No. 3 Alabama at No. 20 Mississippi. I am still not convinced Ole Miss is worthy of all the hype, but we'll see how they handle the rising Tide at home. Also, in case you have not followed the inside track of the Bobby Bowden situation on the FightOnState.com Total Access board, the head coach is now fighting the fans, media, boosters, Board of Trustees and now has to host No. 22 Georgia Tech. I see this game as a crossroads for Bowden. So, it's not a big game by national standards, but many PSU fans will be keeping an eye on this game given the ramifications it could have on the ‘race for the record.'
ND: Time for another team that is ranked because they have played a bunch of cupcakes to be revealed. Auburn is ranked No. 17 despite having played a schedule with a combined record of 6-8 and West Virginia and Tennessee make up for all but 1 of those wins. I'm not convinced that Auburn is a good football team. So, I like Arkansas knocking off the Tigers. Yeah, I know I'm turning into an Arkansas homer but they do play good offense. I like the Razorbacks (again).
MH: I really like that pick Nirav and had it on my short list. Here are a few others that I could see causing commotion; I think Texas A&M could cause some real headaches for No. 15 Oklahoma State with that high-flying offense of theirs and a home field advantage. Also, I would not count out Air Force giving No. 10 TCU a game. I am not sold TCU is the team the rankings say they are, but we shall see.
ND: The Lions seemed to get things clicking in the second half of the Illinois game. But, that doesn't necessarily mean that the rushing woes are behind them. Illinois' defense is far from respectable and they have major problems stopping the run. But, a game like Illinois is key for the confidence of the offensive lineman. This week is a similar type of outing where the team can push hard and see some success against an FCS opponent. But, Eastern Illinois is not a total cake walk. The 3 LBs are all pretty fast. Cory Leman leads the way with 47 tackles, 2 TFLs, 2 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries and 2 forced fumbles. It'll be interesting to see how he does against the PSU Oline, Suhey and the TEs. Leman is fast and has a nose for the football but his size could prevent him from making too many plays. At a mere 6'0" and 219lbs, he is undersized as is the case with many of the Panther defenders. I see the offensive line pushing these guys around and leaving a ton of holes for Royster and the other backs.
The passing game continues to march along with a pretty good clip. The TEs are starting to play a major role in the passing game and Moye keeps making plays at every turn. He speed and ability to adjust to the ball is going to make him a solid threat for the next few years. Clark was very efficient with the football and he should be able to deliver the football effectively against the Panthers. As I mentioned earlier, there is a major size disadvantage in this game. No players on the 2-deep are over 6'0" in the secondary and CJ James, the starting right corner, is 5'8". Look for the Lions to use Moye or Brackett at the goal line in a jump ball situation or on a hard slant to use their bodies as an advantage.
Though the Panthers have a solid pass rusher in Perry Burge, I don't see the Lion tackles or even Shuler or Quarless having much trouble keeping him off of Clark's back. PSU should be able to pick apart the Panthers as long as they account for the fact that Eastern will probably drop a ton of guys into coverage to take away some of the size advantage knowing that they probably can't get to Clark so it's not worth the risk of sending extra guys.
MH: Penn State pulled together a strong, balanced second half. The key to that in my view was based on two elements. First, the offensive line had a strong showing, and although the Illini defensive line is not exactly tearing up the conference, the line was quick and aggressive on pulls and shifts and did a nice job sealing off lanes and opening up gaps for Stephfon Green and Evan Royster. Royster had me concerned in the first half, wondering if he was sick or hurt since he looked slow and flat early on. However, the back turned it on and tore things up.
And how about Green? I guess that early "in-between-the-tackles" work paid off as he looks smooth and comfortable hitting seams in traffic. Hats off to Green for a great game.
The second element that changed things up for the PSU offense was Clark running. It adds a completely different dimension to the offense and keeps the linebackers and secondary honest, pulling them off their coverage just enough to open up opportunities. Clark, in my view, should run at least twice a game. The coaches should just let him pickup a few yards when he sees green in front of him. They don't need to be 51-yard gains either to be effective. As an aside though, I don't expect to see Clark running too much in this game.
As you pointed out, the Panthers have a smaller secondary which could be a field day for the passing game. Derek Moye, Chaz Powell, Graham Zug and hopefully Brett Brackett could have big days. I also expect that Andrew Quarless could have another solid outing in this one. He's proving to be the weapon fans hoped he would become. Too bad it took this long, but it's nice to see him with a career-high five catches last week.
ND: The Panthers are led by Jake Christensen, who is the Iowa transfer. Christensen started for the Hawkeyes during a visit to Happy Valley. Surprisingly, Penn State beat the Hawkeyes that year. Christensen is one of the highest rated passers in FCS. He's completing 65.4% of his passes and he is excellent at distributing the football. 12 different Panthers have caught a pass this season. The Panthers run a 3-wide set with a single back. Jimmy Potempa leads the team with 20 receptions from the slot position (as Wes Welker built guy) but Kenny Whitaker and Chris Wright are the two that are generating the most buzz. Both are true freshman and they are averaging over 12 yards per catch and both of them have two TDs on the season. Neither are particularly big but both are solid receivers. Stephen Morris continues to shine for the Lions in the secondary and he'll see plenty of action because the Lions will probably play a fair amount of nickel defense in this game.
The Panthers rushing attack is not bad by FCS standards. Mon Williams gets the bulk of the carries. He's averaging 88.2 yards per game with a decent 5.7 yards per carry average. He's a bit of a bigger kid for this team tipping the scales at 220 lbs. What helps him go is the Panther Offensive Line, which has good size and is able to drive pretty hard. I think this is a game where the PSU defensive tackles will have a field day. Both tackles for the Panthers are sophomores and have not seen talent like Ogbu, Odrick or even Still. Look for the Lions to get plenty of pressure up the middle and to disrupt the Panther offense.
In reality, this matchup isn't all that fair even if Christensen is an FBS talented QB. The overall speed and size of the defense will devastate the Panthers and will prevent them from having any success until the young kids come in off of the bench. I suspect that the Panthers will have a donut on the board until late in the fourth quarter.
MH: The Panthers receiving game could be a test for the PSU secondary as you point out. I like the play of Wright particularly, because he has the speed to create separation, so the coverage will have to keep him in front and play tight in the flat. I echo your sentiment on Morris, and I am also going to give a shout out to D'Anton Lynn; he played nice coverage against Benn on Saturday and really is become a tough corner to pass on.
I am hoping to see more penetration and greater consistency from the defensive line. Jared Odrick, Ollie Ogbu, Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore have played well, but they have the opportunity to tear up the pocket and really wreak some havoc in this game.
I certainly don't expect the Easter Illinois offensive line to roll over here, but the speed edge PSU has should be a big weapon for the Lions here. I don't expect much blitzing from the Lions here, but it would be a nice opportunity to work in some different sets to help prepare for the rest of the Big Ten slate.
Given the pressure that PSU's front should dish out, Christensen will have to watch the edges and keep a close eye on interior breakdowns. Watch for him to hit some check-downs and screens to get out of trouble. He's not lightening fast, but has the awareness to use his legs to get out of predicaments.
ND: Kickoff returns are still not looking much better and it appears that the coaches will keep working on it despite of contrary evidence on the field. Meanwhile, Jeremy Boone wrapped up Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors. Not only is he blasting the ball with a 48.8 yard per punt average. If he had more attempts, he would be the second ranked punter in the country. His accuracy is what is really impressive. He has seven punts inside the 20 and 3 that have touched back.
But, keep an eye for how aggressive Penn State is on punts this weekend. The Panthers' punter, Kevin Cook, has had a punt blocked this year. But, he's also averaging 41.3 yards per punt, which is not bad. And, as if Penn State's kick return woes couldn't get worse, the Panthers' two kick returners. Corner Rashad Haynes is averaging 23.6 yards per return, which would make him one of the better returners that the Lions have faced.
MH: Kick returns are actually pretty horrid. I am not comfortable with the wedge given the time it takes to set up. Our returnmen are fast and have to keep things in third gear to let the wedge develop. That basically neutralizes the speed advantage PSU has.
Boone is a great weapon and was honored with Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors for his Illinois performance. Here's hoping he gets a much-deserved rest in this game though.
The kick coverage has to be on, but I suspect (and hope at this point) Fera is slated for a redshirt, so the coverage will have to continue to deal with the short line-drive kicks from Colin Wagner.
Matchup to Kick Back and Enjoy:
ND: Trevor Frericks is a pretty good defensive tackle and I'll enjoy watching how the PSU interior line handles him. He's more like an oversized linebacker at 269lbs so it'll be interesting to see if the interior line can get their hands on him and can use their size to move him around or if his speed cases the interior line to trip over their feet. Should be interesting to watch while the starters are in the game.
MH: As usual, I am going on the other side of the ball and going to go with Christensen against the front four of Penn State. The defensive line should get a good surge up front. The question is how consistent it will be. Christensen has the head to make quick decisions, so we'll see if he can handle the pressure and make some rushed plays though.
Keys to the Game:
ND: The team doesn't have a bye week on the schedule and this is the closest thing to it. The Lions need to get off to a quick start and get some points on the board so that the starters can get a little rest. If they sleepwalk their way through this 12 pm start, they might end up having to play a lot longer than expected.
MH: I am going with focus. They Lions cannot afford to take this game lightly. Get in, get the job done and get out. The need to play fast and furious and out this game to bed. Looking ahead will surely bite them in the tail.
ND: Eastern Illinois may be an FCS team but they are not a bad FCS team. However, their lack of size on defense won't be overcome. The Lions should jump out and be coasting in the second half.
Penn State 48, Eastern Illinois 7
MH: This game depends heavily on Penn State. If they come out and sleep-walk through the motions it will be an unnecessarily long afternoon. If they come out and take care of things out of the gate it should give some key guys much-needed rest.
Penn State 37, Eastern Illinois 9
Until next time,
Fight On State!