Illinois hopes to spoil homecoming
The Nittany Lions have dominated the Illini since 1993.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- Illinois would like to spoil Penn State's homecoming weekend, just like how the Nittany Lions did to the Illini last season.
That game was over by halftime, when Penn State led by 53 points on the way to a 63-10 rout, so linebacker Dan Connor thinks Illinois wouldn't mind ruining the fun this Saturday in Happy Valley.
"I know that's definitely in the back of their minds. They are definitely champing at the bit, waiting all season to get a crack at us," Connor said. "That's why with games like this, you really have to be focused.
Recent history gives Penn State (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten) the edge: the Nittany Lions are 8-1 against Illinois since joining the conference in 1993, the lone loss coming in 2001 at Illinois.
Lately this season, the Illini (2-5, 1-2) have had trouble hanging on to leads, having lost their last two contests -- to Indiana and Ohio at home on field goals with five seconds or less on the clock -- after having defeated Michigan State on the road Sept. 30.
Part of that problem might be attributed to their relative youth: five true freshmen have started for the Illini this season, and 16 true freshmen total have played. Only Temple has played more first-year players (20) this year.
"We haven't lost vision of where we're at, where we're going, or how we've got to get there," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "We need to learn how to improve as a football team; we have to finish. Right now we're going through some growing pains."
Senior running back Pierre Thomas (502 yards, three TDs) paces the offense, while freshman quarterback Isiah "Juice" Williams has provided a spark, throwing for eight touchdowns and 925 yards this season. Williams took over as starter a month ago.
Williams is a threat to run, too, having rushed for 306 yards, including 96 on 17 carries in the loss last week to the Bobcats, though Zook would like his quarterback to learn to stay in the pocket more.
Still, 41-year head coaching veteran Joe Paterno is impressed with the athletic youngster.
"The young quarterback has helped them a great deal and has given them a lot more things they can do," Paterno said. "He is such a strong runner and such a great competitor and that has helped them a great deal."
There has been some concern this week on Paterno's part about his own quarterback. Anthony Morelli, who started the season's first seven games, and backup Daryll Clark both suffered mild concussions during last week's loss to No. 2 Michigan. The quarterbacks had been under observation all week and were limited in practice but cleared by doctors Thursday to play.
Morelli (1,357 yards, six TDs) and Clark, an Ursuline High graduate, were officially listed as "possible" on the injury report earlier this week, and third-stringer Paul Cianciolo would likely take over if Paterno still feels either of his top two quarterbacks aren't ready.
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