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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10 Eagles to watch during 2017 training camp

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USA Today Images/CSN

10 Eagles to watch during 2017 training camp

The Eagles kick off their 2017 training camp this week for a season with higher expectations than a year ago. 

A big reason for that is because Carson Wentz is entering his second season after an up-and-down, yet promising, rookie campaign. We're not going to list him as a player to watch because we're all going to watch him anyway. 

Another big reason for optimism is plenty of newcomers. Many of them are listed. 

Here are 10 players to watch during Eagles training camp 2017: 

Nelson Agholor 
We mentioned the newcomers, but let's start with a guy who has been here for a couple of disappointing seasons. Agholor will probably never live up to his draft status, but now it's just about making him a decent NFL player. This spring, he was the best receiver on the field, which was undeniable as it was infuriating to fans. Because it just hasn't translated into games and until it does, no one will care much. But it's worth watching to see if he can continue his impressive offseason. Maybe this year, with a reduced role, he won't be a headcase. 

Derek Barnett
The first-round pick showed some impressive signs during the spring, especially when he beat Lane Johnson a few times 1-on-1. But now the pads go on and the real football begins. Barnett has a real chance to not just earn playing time but also earn a starting job during this training camp. 

Ron Brooks/Joe Walker
We cheated a little here by lumping these two together, but it kind of makes sense. Both are coming back from serious injuries, which is why we need to see what they can do. Walker tore his ACL during the preseason a year ago. Before he did, he was set to be the team's backup middle linebacker. It wasn't until his injury that the Eagles went out and signed Stephen Tulloch. And Brooks was playing OK as the Eagles' slot cornerback before his ruptured quad tendon in October. Jim Schwartz seems to really like him, but many folks have seemingly forgotten about Brooks this offseason. 

Timmy Jernigan
Of all the newcomers, Jernigan might be the most overlooked, but could also make the biggest impact. He's here with just one year left on his contract but will get a chance to put up some serious numbers while playing next to Fletcher Cox on the interior line. 

LeGarrette Blount
Blount reportedly has language written into his contract that gives him bonuses based on staying under 250 pounds. Even if he's under 250, Blount is still a big back, about 20 pounds heavier than rookie Corey Clement. Blount is up there in age and had a huge workload for the Patriots last season. How much does he have left? 

Rasul Douglas 
Of all the Eagles' rookies, Douglas might need to have the most immediate impact. The third-round pick might be thrust into a major role this season just because of the lack of talent at the cornerback position. He was impressive in the spring but is bound to have ups and downs as a rookie. 

Alshon Jeffery 
The Eagles actually have a real No. 1 receiver. Jeffery made some spectacular catches during the spring, but he and Wentz need to build their rapport, which they had extra time to do when the receivers went to North Dakota. We'll see how far along he and Wentz are soon enough. 

Donnel Pumphrey
It's pretty shocking to see how small Pumphrey looks without pads, especially standing next to Blount. How will the Eagles use the tiny running back? Will he be more of a receiver out of the backfield and in the slot? And can his body really hold up in the NFL? 

Isaac Seumalo 
Yeah, we're telling you an interior offensive lineman is a guy to watch. Seumalo has a real chance to beat out Allen Barbre for the starting left guard position. Either way, Seumalo figures into the Eagles' plans for the future as a guard or as the center who eventually takes over for Jason Kelce. 

Mack Hollins
Of the rookie receivers, Hollins was clearly more impressive this spring. I became convinced Hollins can play football in shorts and a helmet. Now, we'll get to see how he does when the pads go on. With his size/speed combo, he's certainly an intriguing prospect.

Union's Andre Blake helps Jamaica stun Mexico to reach CONCACAF Gold Cup final

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USA Today Images

Union's Andre Blake helps Jamaica stun Mexico to reach CONCACAF Gold Cup final

PASADENA, Calif. -- Kemar Lawrence scored on an exquisite 24-yard free kick in the 88th minute, and Jamaica advanced to the CONCACAF Gold Cup final with a 1-0 upset victory over Mexico on Sunday night.

Jamaica will face the United States on Wednesday night at Santa Clara, California. The Reggae Boyz are seeking their first championship in soccer's North and Central American and Caribbean region.

Jamaica goalkeeper Andre Blake kept the game scoreless with a series of saves while Mexico dominated possession despite missing most its top players.

Lawrence's late strike froze goalkeeper Jesus Corona. The ball rose past a five-man wall and curled into the left corner just below the bar for the New York Red Bulls defender's third career international goal and first in three years.

The Reggae Boyz have reached the final for the second straight Gold Cup tournament, but this stunning upset at the Rose Bowl ranks among their biggest international wins. Mexico has won seven Gold Cup titles, the U.S. five and Canada one.

Trying to win its second consecutive Gold Cup and fourth in five tournaments, Mexico used the deeper reaches of its player pool following the World Cup qualifiers and the Confederations Cup last month. While teams were allowed to make up to six substitutions for the knockout rounds, El Tri coach Juan Carlos Osorio said he was blocked by Mexico's clubs.

Mexico hadn't trailed in the tournament before Lawrence's late goal, but El Tri also hadn't been impressive -- no player scored more than one goal. That lack of finishing skill ultimately cost Mexico, which failed to advance to the Gold Cup final for just the second time in the last six tournaments.

The crowd was dominated by Mexico's vast Southern California fan base, but the Rose Bowl was less than half-full with just 42,393 fans. The absence of Chicharito Hernandez and other top Mexican stars, combined with El Tri's unattractive performances in the Gold Cup to date, apparently kept many of their usual faithful at home.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino watched the semifinal from the Rose Bowl stands. So did Osorio, who served the fifth game of a six-match FIFA ban for his conduct toward officials during the Confederations Cup.

Blake made two brilliant saves in succession in the 12th minute, diving twice to stop close-range chances by Jesus Duenas and Erick Torres, the Houston Dynamo star and the only player on the current roster from outside Mexico's domestic leagues.

Blake did it again in the 25th minute, stopping Torres' point-blank header from the top of the 6-yard box with improbably quick reactions.

Jesus Molina sent Blake crashing to the ground with aerial contact in the 34th minute while competing for a ball in the box, but Jamaica rallied and forced Corona to make his own diving stop in the 38th minute off a free kick.

Jesus Gallardo's 22-yard free kick also was punched away adroitly in the 65th minute by Blake for his sixth official save.

Jamaica got a chance in the 56th minute, but substitute Ricardo Morris' 14-yard shot went straight to Corona. Damion Lowe got another golden chance with a sharp header off a free kick in the 78th minute, but Corona dived to swat it away.