For Penn State (4-3 1-2) week 10 can’t come around quick enough. The heaviest defeat in 114 years came in week nine at the hands of No.4 Ohio State, 14-63. The fact that the Buckeyes are one of the top college football teams will be of no comfort to Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien, his players or the loyal supporters.
Illinois - Fighting Illini (3-4 0-3) are the next visitors to the Beaver Stadium in what is a must win game for the Lions. Illinois are on a three game loosing streak. Their head coach Tim Beckman will see this fixture as an opportunity to take advantage of a side still hurting from a historical heavy loss.
Beckman’s men have similar statistics as the Lions in 2013 and are (3-2) against unranked teams, the hosts are (3-1) against unranked teams.
So why is this a must win game for the Lions? Firstly, any football team wants to win. Coach O’Brien is trying to lay the foundations to take the team to the next level, which is to become a regular top 25-ranked team. This next fixture is going to be a test of resolve, character and patient football. Another defeat would dent morale and start to raise questions about the teams overall leadership and ability
O’Brien has a promising talent on his roster, freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Penn State has an average of 277 passing yards a game (30th overall) and credit must go to quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher for the way he has mentored young Hackenberg.
There is much for the coaching staff to work on. Penn State must improve on third down conversions, currently one of the worst in college football with just over a 31% completion rate.
Saturday’s game will be the next focus for the Penn State coaches and players. A key player for Illinois is running back Josh Ferguson who has 361 yards in both receptions and carries. Ferguson also has two rushing touchdowns and three reception touchdowns. Wide receiver Ryan Lankford has 15 receptions for 308 yards and one touchdown.
There is not a great deal to separate these two teams. One stand out player is Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson. The junior has 55 receptions for 878 yards and six touchdowns, with 125 yards in receptions per game he is a real threat to any secondary. Robinson is approaching the 2,000 yard mark in his career, he is well on the NFL scouting radar. The pacey wide out will be looking for a big finish to the season.
Illinois has a 102nd ranked defense and that should be exploited at every opportunity. With the coaching and preparation all but done, it is down to the players to show that they have the mental aptitude to put last week’s game behind them. Penn State has what it takes to bounce back with a win and the 107,000 spectators inside the Beaver Stadium will be right behind the Lions in this must win game.