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Penn State 10, Illinois 7: Big Ten defenses shine in Leaders battle

Penn State controls fate in Big Ten Leaders Division

This does not end well for Illinois. Getty Images.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — There was no Kerry Collins under center. There was no Ki-Jana Carter to hand the ball off. And there was no Brian Milne to plunge in to the end zone near the goal line. But when Penn State needed to put together a drive to avoid their first loss in Big Ten play, Penn State came through.

Penn State held on to a 10-7 win when Illinois kicker Derek Dimke’s 42 yard field goal clanked off the right sidebar as time expired. With the win Penn State moves to 8-1 overall and 5-0 in Big Ten play, which means they continue to control their own destiny for a Big Ten championship with just three games to go.

Silas Redd scored a three-yard touchdown with 1:08 to play in the game, putting Penn State on top but Illinois moved right down field and used their timeouts to their advantage to put together a last second field goal. Fortunately for Penn State, the kick went bouncing off the goal post as the student section condensed behind the goal in a frenzy.

Penn State has faced a ton of adversity this season but this one probably ranks at the top. Penn State played their first scoreless half since Alabama and the Nittany Lions went to the half scoreless in 1984. The Nittany Lions scored all ten of their points in the final seven minutes of the game in a game the offense gained 209 total yards. Once again, the defense came to the rescue for Penn State but it was the special teams that was the difference maker.

Brad Bars blocked an Illinois punt early in the fourth quarter to set Penn State up at the Illinois 31-yard line. Illinois kept Penn State out of the end zone by Anthony Fera’s 30-yard field goal with seven minutes to play gave Penn State life.

The defense had done their job all game by coming up with four turnovers (two interceptions and two fumbles), even if poor Big Ten officiating played a part in assisting. Penn State held Nathan Scheelhaase to 63 passing yards for Illinois, and back-up Reilly O’Toole was held to31 yards as the two combined for 13 completions on 24 attempts.

Illinois was able to run the football, which they focused on a year ago in Illinois’ 31-13 win in Beaver Stadium. Scheelhaase (106 yards gained) and Jason Ford (100 net yards) each had their moments of wearing down Penn State’s defense but when push came to shove, as it has most games this season, Penn State’s defense proved to be the tougher unit in the trenches.

What Does It Mean?

Penn State improves to 5-0 in Big Ten play, with three games left in the regular season. With Purdue losing to Michigan the Nittany Lions gained a stronger hold on the lead in the Leaders Division and continue to control their own fate in the division.

Silas Redd had his fifth consecutive 100-yard rushing performance.

Quarterback Drama?

Once again Penn State played both Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden. Bolden was 0-for-4 and sacked once in his limited time on the field. McGloin had a rough outing, going 9-for-24 with an interception and just 98 yards, but he was leading the offense in the clutch in the fourth quarter.

At this point, nine games in to the season, the question continues to be why is Penn State using two quarterbacks?

Player of the Game

LB Gerald Hodges, Penn State
19 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 sack

For the second straight week Gerald Hodges had a monster performance for the defense. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said after the game that Hodges is a player that doesn’t take any plays off, and it showed. Hodges was all over the field, coming up with a sack, a forced fumble and was close to an interception, which may have gone for a touchdown if he could hang on to the football and shed the receiver-turned-would-be-tackler.

What’s Next?

Penn State enters the bye week and will come back in two weeks (November 12) to host Nebraska in a protected rivalry game. Nebraska defeated Michigan State in a key Legends Division match-up, following Michigan State’s big win against Wisconsin. Nebraska’s only Big Ten loss came to Wisconsin at the beginning of the conference schedule.

Illinois also has a bye week to put some pieces together after losing three straight games in Big Ten play. Illinois hosts Michigan on November 12.

About the Author

Kevin McGuire
Contributor to College Football Talk on Also a contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Member of Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.
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