Saturday, September 29, 2007

Illinois stuns Penn State

By Sean Pollard
The Phanatic Magazine

Arrelious Benn ran a kickoff back 90 yards for a touchdown and also caught a pass for a score, as the resurgent Fighting Illini upset 21st-ranked Penn State, 27-20.

Rashard Mendenhall rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries for Illinois (4-1, 2-0 Big Ten), which beat a ranked opponent for the first time in six years.

Quarterback Juice Williams completed 11-of-24 passes for 120 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions and also ran for 37 yards before he was replaced by Eddie McGee, who threw three incomplete passes but broke free for a huge 53-yard run in the fourth quarter.

"Juice was forcing it," said Illinois head coach Ron Zook. "He made some errant passes. It's not as if he can't do it because he can. I told (assistant coach Mike Locksley), 'Let's try to get a spark here. Let's get Eddie in.' I'm not saying we're in a two-quarterback system. I don't even want to get into that. But (Eddie McGee) came in and did exactly what we wanted him to do. I thought in the second half, we were backed up on our end of the field for the whole half until he got in."

Penn State signal caller Anthony Morelli threw for 298 yards and a touchdown but threw three second-half interceptions.

Austin Scott rushed for 52 yards and a touchdown and Rodney Kinlaw added 66 yards on the ground for the Nittany Lions (3-2. 0-2), who suffered their second straight loss following last week's 14-9 setback to Michigan.

"I don't have the slightest idea." said Penn State head coach Joe Paterno when asked where the loss leaves the team. "I'm going to have to go back and look at the tapes, spend some time with the players and staff and go from there."

After Jason Reda's 33-yard field goal with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter pushed the Illinois lead to seven, Penn State put together one last drive into Illini territory.

Morelli's 47-yard completion to Derrick Williams brought the Nittany Lions to the Illinois 31-yard line. A three-yard run by Scott on 3rd-and-1 then gave Penn State a first down on the 19-yard line, but the drive stalled from there.

Faced with a 4th-and-13, Morelli avoided the Illini rush and ran for an apparent first down before he coughed up the ball. Penn State recovered the loose ball, but well short of the first down marker.

The Nittany Lions did get the ball back with 47 seconds remaining, but Kevin Mitchell picked off Morelli near midfield to ice the game.

Penn State struck first on Kevin Kelly's 26-yard field goal on the Nittany Lions' opening possession, but Benn ran back the ensuing kickoff 90 yards to put Illinois on top.

"The kickoff return team executed the blocks, and I just finished it," said Benn. "I was just hitting the holes hard and taking it to the house."

The Illini then forced a Penn State three-and-out and Mendenhall's two-yard touchdown run off the option made it 14-3.

Penn State answered on its next possession, driving the length of the field on three plays. After Kinlaw's seven-yard run, Morelli hooked up with Jordan Norwood for a 42-yard reception to the Illinois 24-yard line. Morelli then found Williams open in the right corner of the end zone to bring Penn State within 14-10 with less than a minute left in the first quarter.

Nittany Lions cornerback Justin King picked off Juice Williams in the end zone on the Illini's next drive, but Kinlaw gave the ball right back when he fumbled on Penn State's 39-yard line.

Mendenhall followed with a 10-yard burst before Williams connected with Benn on a 29-yard score that made it 21-10 Illinois. Benn broke several tackles on his way to the end zone, as the Nittany Lions attempted to strip the ball away from the versatile wideout.

"I'm catching the ball and saying to myself, 'I will not be denied,'" said Benn. "I just went up the middle because it was blocked that way and got into the end zone."

Morelli hit Norwood for a 43-yard reception to the Illini seven-yard line on Penn State's ensuing possession and Scott, relegated to the backup role, took it the rest of the way to make it 21-17 with just under nine minutes to play in the half.

Kelly had a chance to pull Penn State closer right before the half, but his 51-yard attempt sailed wide right.

Reda's 47-yard field goal to start the third quarter put Illinois up 24-17, but a bad throw by Williams led to Tony Davis' interception at the Illini 22- yard line.

Penn State had a 1st-and-goal on the six-yard line, but Illinois stopped Kinlaw on three consecutive runs and the Nittany Lions had to settle for Kelly's 20-yard field goal that made it 24-20.

A short punt by Anthony Santella on the Illini's next possession coupled with a 15-yard penalty set Penn State up at the Illinois 27-yard line, but the Nittany Lions came up empty as Jeremy Leman picked off an ill-advised Morelli pass on the two-yard line. Andrew Quarless dropped a sure touchdown two plays before.

Penn State then marched down to the Illinois 19-yard line on its next possession, by Vontae Davis made an impressive interception of Morelli along the sideline with just under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

McGee then took over for Williams and his 53-yard scamper set up Reda's 33- yard field goal.

No comments: