Penn State Meets Illinois and Its Opportunistic Coaching Staff

Penn State Meets Illinois and Its Opportunistic Coaching Staff

This is a game many inside the Penn State program have had circled on their internal calendars since the summer (Noon / ESPN), and for good reason. Seemingly hours after the NCAA announced that picking season on Penn State players was open to all other programs, a team of coaches representing Illinois made their way to State College to see if they could get any Penn State players to switch Big Ten Leaders Division allegiances.

They hung out outside apartment buildings and the football building. Some players stayed inside the football building to avoid the coaches from Illinois. The effort made by the Illini coaching staff resulted in redshirt freshman offensive tackle Ryan Nowicki deciding to transfer to Illinois.

In fairness, Illinois played by the rules allowed by the NCAA. Still, many around the Big Ten did not believe attempting to poach any Penn State players in this fashion was appropriate. And you can be sure those within the Penn State program did not take kindly to the decisions made by Illinois. Early Saturday afternoon some of those hostilities will add fuel to the fire of what will be the Big Ten opener for both schools, who enter this weekend with identical 2-2 records, though they’ve reached this point via different paths.

For Penn State, an 0-2 start could have easily been a 2-0 start but a second half rally by Ohio and a special teams meltdown at Virginia resulted in a different tale. Still, the Nittany Lions have built their confidence on a weekly basis, evening their record with wins against Navy and Temple each of the past two weeks. The defense has played very well and the offense has adapted to a scaled back running game relying more on the ground and pound style of Michael Zordich and Zack Zwinak. This week that running game could open up with the return of Bill Belton and perhaps Derek Day.

One of the positive stories for Penn State has been the continuing maturing of quarterback Matt McGloin. Still without one of the strongest arms and at times one to make some questionable decisions to force a play, McGloin has largely been dependable and has avoided turning the ball over frequently. As a result, he’s become a leading passer in the Big Ten, which can also be credited to the style of play implemented by head coach Bill O’Brien. With Illinois showing vulnerability through the air (four passing touchdowns allowed last week), this should be an area Penn State attempts to key on, with Allen Robinson starting to turn some heads around the conference with his receiving production.

Illinois enters the Big Ten opener coming off a dismal performance at home last week, being run out of the stadium by Louisiana Tech.. It was the second time it looked as though Illinois did not look as though they belonged on the same field, as a road game at Arizona State resulted in a big loss as well. New head coach Tim Beckman has his work cut out for him now, because Penn State will enter this game with a more secure sense of confidence and a bit of an axe to grind after what went down in August.

But do not expect anyone form Penn State to give in to the notion that there is extra incentive for this game because of the Illini recruiting strategy in State College. Linebacker Mike Mauti was asked about that after last weekend’s game against the Owls, but he was reluctant to suggest it serves as motivation for the team entering this weekend. As far as he publicly said, competing for a Big Ten division championship and opening Big Ten play is enough to focus on right now.

But behind his public statements, you get a good sense he has it in the back of his head. Surely he is not alone inside the Penn State locker room, whether they want to admit it or not.

Keep up with Kevin’s college football coverage on
Twitter @KevinOnCFB.

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Ben Simmons working out with LeBron James

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Ben Simmons working out with LeBron James

Ben Simmons' fellow NBA rookies may not think too highly of him, but when the best basketball player on the planet is giving him pointers, he must be doing something right.

On Tuesday, a photo of Simmons and LeBron James dribbling side by side started making the rounds on Instagram. That's right. The Sixers' number-one overall draft pick and franchise savior is apparently training with the four-time league MVP and reigning world champion.

#Klutch @klutchsports

A photo posted by Ben Simmons (@bensimmons) on

Those workouts continued on Wednesday, when 12-time All-Star Dwayne Wade posted a photo of himself, Simmons and James, as well as Richard Jefferson and Jordan McRae. That's some good company for a first-year player to keep.

Good day of work!

A photo posted by dwyanewade (@dwyanewade) on

What does all of this mean for Simmons and the Sixers? Hard to say, but it can't be a bad thing that the rookie point-forward is spending time with a pair of future first-ballot Hall of Famers. Surely he must be learning something.

That's good news for the Sixers, who hope that Simmons can even come close to living up to the lofty comparisons some have drawn to James already.

Tonight's Lineup: Tommy Joseph starts for 1st time against Gio Gonzalez

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Tonight's Lineup: Tommy Joseph starts for 1st time against Gio Gonzalez

Tommy Joseph is back in the starting lineup … as he's expected to be for most of the final month of the season. Joseph bats fourth behind third baseman Maikel Franco.

Joseph did not start Tuesday night in the Phillies' 3-2 loss to the Washington Nationals. The 25-year-old is hitting .251 with 17 home runs and 34 RBIs.

The slugger has a significantly higher average against left-handed pitching than righties, despite clubbing 12 of his 17 homers against right-handed pitchers.

Joseph has yet to faced Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez.

In other lineup notes, Tyler Goeddel gets the start in left field and will hit eighth, while A.J. Ellis gets his second start as a Phillie. He'll catch Adam Morgan.

Here is the full lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Freddy Galvis, SS
7. A.J. Ellis, C
8. Tyler Goeddel, LF
9. Adam Morgan, P

For more on tonight's game, read Steven Tydings' game notes.

Villanova season preview: It's Zach Bednarczyk team now

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Villanova Athletic Media Relations

Villanova season preview: It's Zach Bednarczyk team now

VILLANOVA, Pa. — When star quarterback John Robertson suffered a season-ending injury early in Villanova’s 2015 campaign, Zach Bednarczyk was thrown into a difficult spot.

How could an inexperienced redshirt freshman be expected to replace the reigning Walter Payton Award winner? Could the Wildcats still accomplish all of their lofty preseason goals?

In the end, Bednarczyk probably handled it as well as could be expected, performing admirably in some spots (like when he spearheaded a late comeback against rival Delaware just after Robertson got hurt) and poorly in others (like when Penn upset Villanova for the first time in a century the very next week).

But now, after getting almost a full year of experience under his belt, Villanova head coach Andy Talley is expecting Bednarczyk to become a better, smarter player — and, most of all, someone who can lead the Wildcats into the FCS playoffs in Talley’s final season.

“I think the thing that he did last year was that he was a little bit of a gun-slinger,” Talley said. “He threw the ball around a little bit. Now he’s more judicious with where he throws the football, his outlet receivers. He’s not trying to gun the ball in all of the time and make a play.”

While Talley would certainly like his QB to cut down on some mistakes — he threw seven interceptions last season — he does appreciate that Bednarczyk possesses some of the same playmaking skills that made Robertson such a star at ’Nova, including the ability to gain yards on the ground.

In his first season last year, Bednarczyk led the Wildcats in rushing with 515 yards and five touchdowns while throwing for 1,396 yards and 10 touchdowns en route to nabbing CAA co-Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

This season, which begins for Villanova Saturday at Pittsburgh, Talley hopes he can match those running totals while becoming a 2,000-yard passer with fewer interceptions.

“Last year he was rookie of the year in the CAA but he really could have been an all-league player if he didn’t throw the ball in some bad spots,” Talley said. “I think he learned the hard way by having the ball go against him. In the last game of the year, we had a chance to tie for the championship and go to the playoffs if we had beaten JMU. And he threw two picks that went back for touchdowns. So he’s sort of learned his craft the hard way.”

That season-ending loss to James Madison still stings for the Wildcats, who finished with a 6-5 overall record and missed out on qualifying for the FCS playoffs for just the third time in eight years.

That’s something they hope to reverse in 2016 under the growing leadership of Bednarczyk, who agrees with his coach that he needs to become a smarter player.

“Last year I definitely took too many risks,” the sophomore QB said. “This year, although I still want to throw the ball around because that’s my strong suit, I definitely don’t want to force anything. I’ll try to cut back on my turnovers. If it looks like it’s too tight of a window to squeeze it this year, I’ll just tuck it and run.”

Bednarczyk will certainly need to be poised in the pocket with Talley admitting that the Wildcats aren’t as deep at receiver as they’ve been in years past. 

At the same time, he may not have to put too many points on the board, considering how good Villanova’s defense can be. Although the unit graduated star linebacker Don Cherry, who’s been in preseason camp with the Eagles, they still boast a veteran unit that includes linebacker Austin Calitro and defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon.

Kpassagnon, a 6-foot-7, 290-pound NFL prospect, is an especially intriguing player for the Wildcats.

“I think all the pro teams have been through to see him,” Talley said. “He can run. He’s tough. He diagnoses well. He’s in our business school, so he’s smart as can be. And he carries that over to the field.”

Kpassagnon, who was named to the CAA preseason all-conference team, is excited for his senior season but admitted that helping the Wildcats rise to the top of a loaded league won’t be easy. Villanova, which opens league play Sept. 17 vs. Towson, was picked fourth behind Richmond, William & Mary and James Madison.

“There’s no dropoff in competition throughout the CAA,” Kpassagnon said. “In some other leagues, there are a couple of teams that you know will obviously win the conference. But with ours, you never know.”

Of course, Villanova has aspirations beyond just winning the league. As always, the Wildcats — who check in at No. 23 in the STATS preseason Top 25 — will look to make a deep run in the FCS playoffs and, perhaps, try to send Talley out with his second national title.

“The goal is definitely a national championship,” Kpassagnon said. “We all believe we can do it. It’s something we have in the back of our heads.”