Illini fodder for angry Penn State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Last year was about revenge. Illinois coach Tim Beckman and his staff didn't just recruit Penn State players after the NCAA imposed sanctions, some of his assistants flew to State College and set up camp at a coffee shop off campus. What happened a couple of months later was predictable: a Penn State blowout, 35-7.


Scouting report

Matchup: Penn State (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten) vs. Illinois (3-4, 0-3), noon today, Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pa., Penn State is favored by 101/2.

TV, Radio, Internet: ESPN; KQV-AM (1410) and Penn State Sports Network; www.Go-PSUsports.com.

Penn State: RB Zach Zwinak had 11 carries in the past two games after having 32 in the previous two. ... The 14 points last Saturday were the fewest it had scored since the season-opener last year against Ohio. ... Adrian Amos is expected to play primarily cornerback for the second game in a row. ... Has won 16 of 20 games against Illinois.

Illinois: The AP reported that QB Nathan Scheelhaase's father was banned from the Illinois campus for a year after getting arrested for fighting at last week's Michigan State game. ... Kick returner V'Angelo Bentley ranks fourth in the nation in kick return yards at 30.8 per return. ... Linebacker Jonathan Brown leads the Big Ten with 76 tackles.

Hidden stat: Illinois' first three Big Ten opponents have a combined record of 17-5, 9-2.

This year brings with it another Penn State team hungry for a victory but because of different circumstances. Namely, Penn State could use any boost in morale after last week's 63-14 drubbing by Ohio State, and it just so happens that Illinois is its opponent.

Statistically, facing the Nittany Lions after a loss puts the Illini in a difficult situation. Under coach Bill O'Brien Penn State is 5-1 after losses. This gets at the resiliency theme O'Brien speaks about often, and players this week recounted how they were as intense as ever at Monday and Tuesday practices.

"Once you have a loss like that you want to get that bad taste out of your mouth," linebacker Mike Hull said. "We're excited to get out there and prove ourselves again."

But aside from this year's win against Michigan, Penn State's bounce-back victories have come against bad teams: Indiana, Purdue and Navy last year and Kent State this year. Illinois, 0-3 in the Big Ten, could easily fit with the rest of that group. The Illini, though, are better than last year.

In its second year of using a spread offense (and its first under offensive coordinator Bob Cubit), Illinois has jumped from a conference-worst in total offense at 296 yards per game last season to 400 total yards per game this year, eighth in the conference. Senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is healthy, and he has three wide receivers -- Matt LaCosse, Ryan Lankford and Steve Hull -- averaging more than 17 yards per catch (no one on Penn State, even Allen Robinson, averages 17).

That means Illinois will be a test for the Penn State defense, which sorely needs something good to happen for it Saturday.

"We're definitely going to have to be prepared for some of the weapons they have on offense," safety Jesse Della Valle said.


Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com and Twitter @mdent05.

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