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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Penn State uses dominant second half to top No. 6 Wisconsin for Big Ten title

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Penn State uses dominant second half to top No. 6 Wisconsin for Big Ten title

INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State’s offense rewrote the Big Ten Championship’s offensive record book Saturday night but its 38-31 victory over Wisconsin wasn’t secure until the final minute.

And Linebacker U. got the game-saving play from the secondary.

Wisconsin, armed with a pair of timeouts and lining up for a fourth-and-1 play from the Nittany Lions’ 24, called on Corey Clement. Clement, who’d already racked up 166 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, got the ball but never got close to the marker.

Grant Haley made sure of it.

The junior cornerback wrapped up Clement’s legs and safety Marcus Allen kept Clement from leaning forward and the game was over. Penn State (11-2) has the 2016 Big Ten title and, at worst, will play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2009.

“They ran [a counter] early in the game and split it for a touchdown,” Haley said of the final play. “I saw them set the edge, so I got triggered really well and Marcus finished off the play.”

Haley and company watched the Badgers run wild in the first half; 164 yards and three touchdowns, including Clement’s 67-yard scamper. Wisconsin, one of the conference’s best rushing teams this season, managed less than half that total (77) in the second half.

“They really weren’t running that many plays,” Haley added. “We just came out in the second half and had a jolt. 

“We just had the energy going into the second half.”

Wisconsin got the ball twice in the fourth quarter but managed only 65 yards - 51 of which came on its final drive.

“Give credit to Penn State for coming out in the second half and making those adjustments and allowing those big plays to happen,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. 

Give plenty of credit, too, to the Nittany Lions’ offense. 

Quarterback Trace McSorley was named the game’s most valuable player after completing 17 of his 25 passes for 319 yards and four touchdowns - both championship game records. He helped Penn State complete the biggest comeback in the game’s six year history after his team fell behind 28-7 in the first half and also finished the regular season with 3,360 yards and 25 touchdown passes, both school records.

Saeed Blacknall had six catches for a Big Ten Championship-record 155 yards and two touchdowns and DaeShean Hamilton finished with 118 yards on eight grabs.

Tailback Saquon Barkley, injured in last weekend’s victory over Michigan State, returned with 88 yards and a touchdown on the ground and caught an 18-yard scoring pass from McSorley early in the fourth quarter to put the Nittany Lions ahead for good.

Penn State, in its first-ever trip to this game, is coming home from it with just its second outright Big Ten title. It’s on a nine-game winning streak that has seen it average 40 points per contest.

It also could present the College Football Playoff selection committee with a bit of quandary. The Nittany Lions, who were ranked seventh by the committee last week, topped the No. 6 Badgers and claimed a conference championship, something likely playoff teams Alabama, Clemson and Washington all boast.

On the flip side, Penn State’s last defeat was a lopsided 49-10 loss at Michigan, which sits at No. 5 in the rankings and likely won’t move into the top four after losing last week to No. 2 Ohio State.

Penn State coach James Franklin stated his team’s case after Saturday night’s win, but also made it clear he and his team won’t be moping their way to Pasadena, Calif., where the conference champion is slotted if it is not chosen for the playoff.

“We’ve got great options in front of us,” he said. “I hear people on TV talking about they feel like maybe the playoff has taken away from the bowls. 

“Are you kidding me? The Rose Bowl? It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that.”

Report: Jordan Matthews (ankle) not expected to play vs. Bengals

Report: Jordan Matthews (ankle) not expected to play vs. Bengals

Jordan Matthews will not play Sunday against the Bengals after missing practice all week with an ankle sprain, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Matthews is the Eagles' leading receiver with 57 catches for 686 yards and three touchdowns. The team has called him a game-time decision.

Second-year receiver Nelson Agholor will reportedly be inserted back into the lineup. If Matthews doesn't play the Eagles will have only four healthy receivers active on Sunday: Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham and undrafted rookies Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner.