No. 15 Penn State runs over Illinois
Boy, were they right.
The 15th-ranked Nittany Lions battered the Illini with 338 yards rushing on a wet, windy, 50-degree Saturday to win 35-17.
Running backs Stephon Green and Evan Royster each topped 100 yards - Green with 120 yards on 13 carries and Royster with 17 rushes for 105.
"We saw Ohio State have a lot of success last week running their inside zone plays," Royster said. "It's just something that we saw and we wanted to exploit it, too.
"Our offensive line," he added, "played real confident today."
Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who said earlier in the week that a road trip might be just what his team needed after a 21-10 loss to Iowa, said Saturday's win was the first complete game his team has played this season.
"Earlier in the year we did some things well for a half," Paterno said. "This is the first time I've felt we played well the whole ballgame."
Illinois (1-3, 0-2) heard boos from its fans for the first time in what is becoming a long season.
The sellout crowd at Memorial Stadium directed its unhappiness at the offense, which had no answer for Penn State's second-half show. Illinois followed two Penn State scoring drives with three-and-outs, each ending on third-and-long plays that Illinois tried to convert with short passes.
"A little bit of it has to do with their defense, but in order for us to be successful and for us to win games, we are going to have to play," Illinois coach Ron Zook said.
The Illini managed just 130 yards rushing - 58 of it by quarterback Juice Williams, who was 20-for-36 for 263 yards and his first touchdown pass of the season. The senior became Illinois' career leader for total yards with 9,126, passing up previous record holder Kurt Kittner's 8,880.
The Nittany Lions led 7-3 at halftime but used a crushing third quarter to get the win, gaining 208 yards on a pair of drives that left the Illini staggering.
On a quarterback draw from his 34, Darryl Clark ran 51 yards to the Illini 15.
"They blitzed us right where we thought and, once I got past the first level and saw all that field, I'm like, 'Wow, just get downfield and get just as much yards as you can,"' Clark said.
Two plays later he dived to the goal line, stretching his arms out to just nudge the football into the end zone with 6:34 left in the third quarter. The extra point gave Penn State a 14-3 lead.
The Nittany Lions got the ball back quickly and drove 79 yards, scoring on Clark's second TD - another 1-yarder - just after the fourth quarter started.
Clark carried the ball seven times for 83 yards and was an efficient 17-of-25 passing for 175 yards.
Green gave Penn State its only first-half points on a 52-yard second-quarter touchdown. The sophomore burst through a massive hole behind his left guard and tackle and broke a scoreless tie in a game that had been dominated by rain and wind.
Illinois answered with a 22-yard field goal by Matt Eller with just over seven minutes left before the half, but missed a chance to score again.
After driving the Illini from his own 1-yard line on a series of crisp passes - including three to Arrelious Benn - Williams was flagged for intentional grounding.
The penalty took Illinois from a second down at the Penn State 23 to third-and-30 at the Nittany Lions' 43. The incomplete pass to Benn and half-ending interception that followed left the Illini behind for good.
"At halftime we had a chance to make a ballgame of it," Zook said. "We should have gotten points in that last series of the first half."
Penn State played without linebacker Sean Lee, who dressed for the game for the second week without playing. Paterno said he isn't sure when the team captain will play again after spraining his left knee Sept. 19 against Temple.
Since the last time Penn State and Illinois met, they've gone in different directions. That game, last September at Penn State, pitted a pair of ranked teams - Penn State at No. 12 and Illinois at No. 22 - and was won by the Nittany Lions, 38-24.
Illinois has since gone 3-8, hasn't been ranked and sat home during bowl season. The Illini have started this year with three blowout losses and a win over Illinois State, a Football Championship Subdivision school.
Zook said his team has time to turn the season around.
"Two years ago we lost two games in the Big Ten and went to the Rose Bowl," he said. "We have a monumental task in front of us and it starts next week."