Dissecting Illinois (33) – Penn State (13): Game Balls, Catcalls & Pitfalls

Nate Bussey (#18) and the Illinois defense put a hurting on Joe Paterno's Penn State team during an unhappy Nittany Lions' homecoming last Saturday.

Wow!

Not only did Illinois finally win at Penn State, it flat-out dominated the Nittany Lions on Saturday afternoon.

Here are Writing Illini’s thoughts on the tremendous performance.

A Statement Game

With its 20-point victory at Penn State Saturday, Illinois has made a serious statement for the year.

The 2010 Illini are not the 2009 Illini.

This year’s team means business.

Amazingly, Illinois has already matched its win total from last season.

Even in Illinois’ two losses in 2010, the Illini have typically looked like a solid team, playing hard, giving a really honest effort, and proving that they can hang with the best in the country at home and in big games on the road.

As long as Illinois keeps focused, it should make a bowl this season.

Leshoure On Pace for Stellar Season

Junior running back Mikel Leshoure is having quite the season.

After racking up 119 yards on Saturday, he has totaled 597 yards through 5 games.

To put that into perspective, Rashard Mendenhall, Illinois’ star running back from the 2007 Rose Bowl team and a first round draft pick after his junior season, had 606 yards at that point of the season.

Leshoure has had a harder schedule thus far, having already played Ohio State, a team that Mendenhall did not face until the memorable upset in Columbus.

Leshoure is on track to eclipse 1,400 yards this season and showing no signs of letting up.

Final Score: Illinois 33, Penn State 13

A full recap of the game can be found on Writing Illini’s Gameday Binoculars.

Game Balls

Nick Houska’s Illini Game Ball

  • Nathan Scheelhaase

No question who gets the honor this week.

Scheelhaase played absolutely out of his mind on Saturday.

While just about everyone on the field for Illinois had excellent games, Scheelhaase’s performance was a notch above the rest.

In his first true road game, at the nation’s second largest stadium nonetheless, the freshman threw for 151 yards on 15-19 passing, a career best 79% completion rating, and rushed for another 61 yards on only 8 rushes.

Scheelhaase probably would have had more yards if it were not for the fact the defense did such a good job that the Illini often got they ball with a short field to go (provided the ball wasn’t fumbled on special teams).

Scheelhaase was a big question heading into the Penn State game.

While he had been excellent so far this season, that was at home in front of a cheering crowd.

Last Saturday was played in one of the most hostile environments in college football, and in front of a pumped up homecoming crowd none the less.

Scheelhaase met the challenge head on and never flinched.

He expertly managed the game and helped lead the Illini to a huge win.

With the Illini at worst 3-3 at the half-way point, a bowl game seams very likely.

Not bad for a freshman who inherited a 3-9 team.

Chris Maynard’s Illini Game Ball

  • The Illinois line play

I’m going with the Illini lines, both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.

When you rush for 282 yards and only give up 65 yards, your lines have dominated, as was the case against Penn State.

While it’s often easy to forget about the guys in the trenches, that shall not be the case this week.

Other Players Worth Mentioning

Nick Houska

Wow, where to begin? As I said, while Scheelhaase was deserving of my game ball, just about every Illini player deserves mention here. I will try and name them all here, in no particular order.

  • Mikel Leshoure

Leshoure eclipsed 110 yards for the 4th time this season.

Leshoure’s yards-per-carry average was hurt because Illinois kept running him when it had the lead in the fourth as the Penn State defense keyed in on him,

Despite the total focus on him, Leshoure was constantly able to convert for a first down.

  • Nate Bussey

Bussey’s pick six in the second quarter made the ESPN highlight reels, and rightfully so.

Bussey perfectly read the screen pass and then followed his own deflection in the air to catch it and run into the end zone.

The entire Illini team was able to feed off the momentum from his thrilling play, and Illinois never looked back as it expanded its lead.

  • Jason Ford

For the second week in a row, Illini offensive coordinator Paul Petrino pulled a trick out of his sleeve. This time, it was a pass from Ford to tight end Evan Wilson after Scheelhaase lateraled it to the back on an apparent option play.

Ford had burned the Nittany Lions on a similar option just a few plays earlier, so the enter defense rushed the back, leaving Wilson totally open in the end zone.

  • Derek Dimke

Dimke drilled 4 kicks from 31, 37, 41, and 50 yards along with 3 PAT’s on Saturday, the first Illini to make 4 field goals in one game since 2006.

Dimke continues to have a great year and is 10-11 on field goals thus far.

He is tied for 10th in the nation in field goals made and is tied for first in field goals made from 50+ yards.

  • AJ Jenkins

Jenkins led the team in receptions and yards, racking up 76 yards and scoring on an impressive touchdown when he pounded past two defenders to get into the end zone.

Jenkins is having a great year, and both he and the team should be glad he decided not to transfer.

  • The entire Illini defense

This is not a cop out on naming people, but the entire defense was outstanding this game.

Illinois had no defensive penalties all game, something that really cost the Illini against Ohio State, and it held Joe Pa’s team to season lows in first downs (7), total yards (235), third-down conversions (2-for-14) and time of possession (21:48).

The Illini defense also had 2 very impressive goal line stands where it held Penn State to field goals after 2 fumbles gave the Nittany Lions’ possession inside the 10.

Chris Maynard

  • Vic Koenning

The new Illini defensive coordinator has been flat out masterful in the last two weeks.

Man, this guy knows how to draw up and execute a good game plan.

I especially like the fact that Martez Wilson is starting to make some big plays, as seen during his third-quarter blitz of Rob Bolden on Saturday.

  • Ron Zook

I’ll also add Ron Zook to this list.

Easy fodder far too often, Zook has put his offense and defense in good hands this season.

More importantly, the Illini have played hard each week and believe that they can win, which was not the case last year.

Such credit needs to go to Zook.

Catcalls

Nick Houska

  • Turnovers

The Illini were lucky that their turnovers did not cost them.

Illinois defense saved them from going down big early in the game.

If that had happened and the Penn State crowd had not been silenced, the game may have ended differently.

Needless to say, it will probably be a while until we see Jack Ramsey returning any more kicks. He muffed the return every time it came to him, and two of his three fumbles were recovered by Penn State in the red zone.

Wide receiver Jarred Fayson took over in the second half, but he only had one return for two yards.

The Illini had been very solid on special teams before this game, and they need to get rid of the drops because Michigan State will not have the same red zone problems that Penn State has had.

Chris Maynard

  • Jack Ramsey

Ramsey struggled fielding punts in the first half, turning the ball over twice.

Luckily, the Illinois defense held Penn State out of the end zone after both turnovers.

In Ramsey’s defense, he had been fine fielding punts prior to Penn State.

Ramsey should chalk it up to a bad day at the office and move on, even if he is benched for a week.

Potential Pitfalls

Nick Houska

  • Nothing Stands Out

It is hard to see any real downfalls with this game.

It was arguably the team’s most complete and solid game all season and it could not have come at a better time.

As of right now, Illinois is 3-2 with a huge road win.

Illinois’ only 2 losses have come to ranked, currently undefeated, teams.

This team is moving in the right direction after last season’s disappointing showing.

Chris Maynard

  • Special Teams Turnovers

I’m not going to nitpick after this week’s dominant performance.

Ramsey had a tough one, but the Illini special teams have been incredible all season long, from the punting and kicking games to the return and coverage game.

Wrting Illini Projection Record: 4-1 (80%)

Check back later in the week for a look at the final opponent of the State Stretch, Michigan State.

Until then.

Topics: AJ Jenkins, Derek Dimke, Evan Wilson, Football, Illinois Fighting Illini Football, Illinois Football, Jack Ramsey, Jarred Fayson, Jason Ford, Joe Paterno, Lions Football, Mikel Leshoure, Nate Bussey, Nathan Scheelhaase, Nittany Lions Football, Paul Petrino, Penn State Football, Penn State Nittany Lions Football, PSU Football, Rashard Mendenhall, Ron Zook, Vic Koenning

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