CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- This is what Penn State had in mind months ago when its leaders discussed the need to earn revenge against those the players felt had wronged them in July.
That meant the NCAA, the media and, if one team had to be targeted, Illinois. Penn State defeated 35-7 today the school that recruited in State College after the announcement of the NCAA's sanctions.
Mike Mauti was the most outspoken of Penn State players at the time. His plays alone would have been enough to win the game for the Nittany Lions. He was responsible for three turnovers.
The first came minutes into the game when when he drove into Illinois punt returner Hayden Daniels and forced a fumble.
Penn State scored on the ensuing drive and led Illinois at halftime 21-0.
Mauti had almost made it 28.
With Illinois threatening to score late in the first half, he intercepted a pass at the goal line and returned it all the way to the Illinois 1.
Late in the third quarter, Mauti intercepted another pass at midfield. On the ensuing drive, Zach Zwinak would score a touchdown from the 1, making it 35-7.
Zwinak also scored Penn State's first touchdown -- the one preceded by the Mauti forced fumble -- running for one yard with 10:41 left in the first quarter.
Quarterback Matt McGloin scored on another one-yard run with 6:29 left in the first quarter.
For a while, it appeared Penn State might go into halftime with the same momentum it did against Temple: good stats against what appears to be a mismatched team but not much of a lead.
The offense clicked one last time. Lehman caught his 21-yard touchdown pass with 3:11 left in the half.
Perhaps Illinois coaches had good reason to plan their infamous July recruiting trip to State College. The early fumble was far from Illinois' only lowlight.
The Illini opened with a three and out, then had a personal foul penalty.
The team's first successful drive came when running back Donovonn Young ran 52 yards to the Penn State 11, but Illinois failed to come away with points.
Late in the second quarter, Matt Lehman caught a 21-yard touchdown pass and Illinois defensive back Earnest Thomas III hit him after the catch, helmet-to-helmet, and was ejected.
The best play for Illinois might have come at the very end of the first half.
Mauti intercepted a Nathan Scheelhaase pass at the Penn State 2 and ran the ball all the way back to the Illinois 1 before getting dragged down. The play turned a touchdown into a blocked field goal.
Mark Dent: email@example.com and on Twitter @mdent05. First Published September 29, 2012 6:00 PM