Oct 12, 2013; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Christian Hackenberg (14) passing prior to the game against the Michigan Wolverines at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O

Illinois Football: Previewing Penn State’s Offense

In their past two games, the Illinois Fighting Illini have been outscored 98 to 35. Both offenses of the Wisconsin Badgers and the Michigan State Spartans completely dominated the Illini, and some fans are wondering if the same will happen this week against the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Although anything is possible, the stats might point to a more manageable scoring margin for when the Illini face off against the Nittany Lions. Penn State is averaging only 30.6 points per game (61st overall) and Illinois’ defense gives up an average of 33.7 points per game (104th overall).

Mandatory Credit: Matthew O

If the Nittany Lions are going to beat down on the Illini this weekend, they are going to do it by throwing the football.

The team is led by freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg. In the team’s last victory over Michigan, he threw for just over 300 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions.

So far this season, Hackenberg has completed around 58% of his passes for 1,784 yards and has throw 12 touchdowns compared to eight interceptions.

As a team this season, Penn State is averaging 277 passing yards per game and is ranked 30th in the entire NCAA.

When it comes to his receiving targets, Hackenberg’s #1 guy this season has been junior wide receiver Allen Robinson.

Robinson has the most receptions on the team with 55 through seven games and has racked up 878 yards and six touchdowns. During the team’s blowout loss to OSU, Robinson was able to catch 12 passes for 173 receiving yards and one touchdown.

On the ground, the load is split between running backs Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak. Both backs have over 90 carries and over 400 rushing yards this season.

Belton might lead the Nittany Lions in rushing yards with 467 on the season, but it is Zwinak who leads the team in rushing touchdowns with eight.

In the loss to OSU, it was Belton who received most of the carries with 22 compared to Zwinak’s three. Belton is also the player who scored the game winning touchdown in the four overtime thriller against Michigan.

If one looks at the stats for the Illini since beginning Big Ten play, they might say that the Nittany Lions are in for a big game on Saturday offensively.

Since the beginning of conference play on October 5th against Nebraska, the Illini have given up 137 total points to opposing offenses and are giving up an average of 45.7 points per game.

Don’t let their last game fool you. Penn State is capable of putting up points if given the opportunity. The Nittany Lions have scored over 30 points in four games this season, and they have scored over 40 points in two games.

Yes, it’s true that the offense for Illinois looked very bad against MSU, but part of the blame needs to go on the defense.

The only way Illinois is going to beat PSU this weekend is by keeping them out of the endzone. The defense will need to buckle down and make some big stops in order to give the offense more chances to score in the game.

If they fail at stopping Christian Hackenberg and the Nittany Lions, Illinois will be 0-4 in the Big Ten, and fans will start asking many questions about what needs to change in Champaign this offseason.

Make sure to follow me on Twitter @RickyWidmer.

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Tags: Allen Robinson Bill Belton Christian Hackenberg Football Illinois Fighting Illini Penn State Nittany Lions

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