The Nittany Lions scored nine points in the last 1:20 to pull away from Illinois.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- Cornerback Tony Davis scored on a 6-yard fumble return, Anthony Scirrotto had two interceptions and returned an onside kick for a touchdown, and Penn State overcame Illinois' ground game to defeat the Illini 26-12 Saturday.
Rashard Mendenhall ran for 161 yards on 14 carries for Illinois (2-6, 1-3 Big Ten). The Nittany Lions struggled on offense, but the defense came up with big stops in Illinois territory and Penn State (5-3, 3-2) scored nine points in the last 1:20 to pull away.
In trouble at his own 7, Illinois quarterback Isiah Williams scrambled but was sacked and fumbled after linebacker Paul Posluszny grabbed him from behind. The ball took two bounces before Davis took hold and ran untouched into the end zone for a 19-7 lead midway through the third quarter.
Dan Connor sacked Williams in the end zone for a safety with 1:20 left in the game. Scirrotto recovered the ensuing onside kick and returned it 29 yards for a score to send the homecoming crowd away on a bright note. "We are ... Penn State!" rang through the packed Beaver Stadium.
Not a good start
Still, it was hardly a banner day for the Lions. The offense didn't have any rhythm, and the defense was confounded early by Illinois' rushing game, which gained 202 yards. The Big Ten's second-best rush offense bested the conference's second-best rush defense.
Mendenhall had a 79-yard dash down the right sideline that set up one of Jason Reda's four field goals on the afternoon.
Williams, a freshman making his fifth career start, was able to escape trouble with his legs often, especially before halftime, when Illinois led 9-3.
A stunned crowd often could muster no more than groans and a smattering of boos.
That changed in the second half.
Penn State takes lead
Penn State's Anthony Morelli found Terrell Golden for a 17-yard completion to the Illinois 3 on third down, then hit Kevin Darling for a touchdown to put Penn State ahead 10-9.
Morelli was limited in practice this week after sustaining a concussion last week against Michigan. He finished 18-of-34 for 144 yards and an interception.
Williams finished 13-of-33 for 156 yards and two interceptions. The Lions were able to contain him more in the second half, and he had 5 yards rushing on 19 carries.
Dropped balls hurt Penn State, too, including one that bounced off Jordan Norwood's hands just after he was hit by safety Kevin Mitchell. Brit Miller snagged the ball out of the air for the interception, and Reda kicked a 40-yard field goal three plays later to give the Illini a 9-3 lead.
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