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Illinois | Memorial Stadium | 12 p.m. | ESPN2
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State heads to Champaign on Saturday for a matchup with the Fighting Illini. Get to know Illinois in this week's scouting report.
Tim Beckman is in his third year as head coach at Illinois, with a record of 10-24 at Illinois and 31-40 overall. The Illini finished 2013 with a 4-8 mark, including 1-7 in the Big Ten. They returned 47 lettermen and 18 starters from last year.
Last Saturday, Illinois dropped to 4-6 overall and 1-5 in the Big Ten, falling 30-14 against Iowa. The Illini gained 235 yards, including 147 passing. Quarterback Wes Lunt completed 14-of-25 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown. Reilly O'Toole also saw time at quarterback, completing 3-of-6 passes for 45 yards and a score, while also rushing for 29 yards. Josh Ferguson gained 29 rushing yards on nine carries, while Donovonn Young had 25 yards on five attempts. Mike Dudek caught six passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns.
The Illini defense allowed 587 yards, with 304 coming on the ground. Linebacker Mason Monheim was one of three Illinois players to have double-digit tackles, leading the team with 15 stops. Safety Zane Petty recorded 13 tackles, including 0.5 TFL. Fellow safety Taylor Barton had 12 tackles and forced a fumble. Cornerback V'Angelo Bentley and tackle Jarrod Clements each had a sack.
Illinois averages 25.6 points per game, ranking ninth in the Big Ten. The Illini average 360.2 yards of total offense, ranking eighth. They gain 255.6 yards passing and 104.6 yards rushing, ranking second and 13th in the conference, respectively.
Lunt, a sophomore, and O'Toole, a senior, have split starts at quarterback this year. Lunt has started six games, completing 65 percent of his throws for 1,671 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. O'Toole has started the other four games, connecting on 55 percent of his pass attempts for 745 yards, five scores and six interceptions. O'Toole also has 106 rushing yards and a touchdown.
In the backfield, Ferguson, a 5-foot-10, 195-pound junior, averages nearly five yards per carry, with 581 yards and six touchdowns. Ferguson is also second on the team in receptions with 39, adding 318 yards and two scores. Young, a 6-foot, 220-pound senior, has contributed 248 yards and five touchdowns, while averaging 3.8 yards per carry. He also has 16 receptions for 82 yards.
Dudek, a 5-foot-11 freshman, leads the Illini with 51 catches for 787 yards and five touchdowns. Geronimo Allison, 6-foot-4, has 515 yards and five touchdowns on 34 receptions. Junior Justin Hardee, 6-foot-1, has contributed 18 catches for 230 yards and a touchdown, while senior Martize Barr, 6-foot, has added 17 receptions for 234 yards and two scores. Senior tight end Jon Davis, 6-foot-3, has 12 catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns.
The Illinois offensive line includes two seniors, two sophomores and a redshirt freshman. They have combined for 79 career starts.
The Illini defense allows 36 points per game, ranking 14th in the Big Ten and 111th in the nation. They also allow 493.5 yards per game, also 14th in the conference and 114th in the NCAA. Opponents average 266.9 yards rushing and 226.6 yards passing, ranking 14th and 11th in the conference, respectively. Illinois has forced 12 turnovers.
Tackle Austin Teitsma leads the defensive line with 41 tackles, including 7.5 for loss and two sacks. End Jihad Ward has made 37 stops, with four for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble. Fellow end Dejazz Woods has 25 tackles, three for loss and two sacks.
Monheim, a junior, ranks second in the Big Ten in total tackles per game, averaging 9.8. He has 97 tackles, 37 solo, 6.5 for loss and a sack. Monheim also has three forced fumbles and an interception. T.J. Neal Jr. has 77 tackles, 5.5 for loss, an interception and a forced fumble. Earnest Thomas III, playing the star position, has recorded 47 stops, 27 solo, 8.5 for loss, 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
In the secondary, Petty leads the unit with 90 tackles, including 39 solo and 1.5 for loss. Petty has broken up seven passes. Barton has 88 tackles, 41 solo, two forced fumbles and an interception, which he returned 77 yards for a touchdown against Western Kentucky. Bentley has 43 tackles and returned an interception 45 yards for a score against Texas State. Bentley also has a 12-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Minnesota. Fellow cornerback Eaton Spence has 46 tackles and five pass breakups.
Taylor Zalewski and David Reisner have split time at kicker, with each converting on 1-of-3 attempts. Punter Justin DuVernois averages 44.9 yards per kick, ranking 11th in the nation. Bentley handles the kick return and punt return duties. He averages 22.1 yards per kick return, with a long of 67 yards, and 10.2 yards per punt return.
Penn State leads the all-time series 17-4, on the field. The Nittany Lions won last year's game, 24-17, in overtime, at Beaver Stadium.
What Tim Beckman is saying about Penn State:
"In all phases of the game, they play extremely hard and with great effort. They are very well coached. On defense, you can see a lot of guys that have been involved in that program and college football and play at a Big Ten level."
"[Hackenberg], as he's gone through this conference as a freshman and sophomore has been extremely successful. You see a football team that has played well and understands how to win. It will be a tough game for us, a four-quarter battle."
Contributions on all of the 2014 Opponent Previews provided by GoPSUsports.com Student Writer Paul Marboe.
James Franklin Transcript - Nov. 18
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions (6-4, 2-4) head on the road for the final time during the Big Ten season on Saturday with a trip to Illinois (4-6, 1-5) for a noon kick on ESPN2.
Head coach James Franklin reviewed Saturday's victory over Temple and previewed the matchup against the Fighting Illini on Tuesday afternoon inside the Beaver Stadium Media Room.
Behind a big day on the ground and another dominant effort from the Nittany Lion defense, Penn State powered past Temple on Saturday (30-13). The running back duo of Akeel Lynch and Bill Belton accounted for 222 rushing yards and two touchdowns behind a strong outing from the offensive line.
"I think the offense goes the way the O-line goes. I think the defense goes the way the D-line goes," said Franklin. "So I'm happy with Akeel (Lynch), and I think Akeel has done some nice things. But we didn't go from Bill (Belton) almost having a hundred yards and Akeel having over a hundred yards in a game because they're doing something different or that Coach Galt got them in the weight room and they're stronger and faster than they were four weeks ago. It's the development and the confidence of the offensive line and getting some of those veteran guys back."
Defensively, the Nittany Lions forced five turnovers and held Temple to 248 total yards. The list of turnovers included a pick-six from freshman cornerback Grant Haley. The defense has been lights out for 10 weeks. Penn State is ranked in the top five in three of the four major defensive categories. The Nittany Lions are No. 1 in the nation against the run (83.1 ypg.), No. 3 in the nation in total defense (265.6 ypg) and No. 4 in the nation in scoring defense (16.2 ppg).
"It's an awesome thing. We're very proud of the accomplishments that they've made," Franklin said. "But ultimately, it's about wins. If we could finish this season going undefeated one week at a time and trade some rankings on defense, we'd do that. We'd do that. I know our defensive players would do that and our defensive coaches would do that. I think for us to do that, we're going to need our defense playing well. So those things go hand in hand. If the statistics work out that way, at the end of the year we'll be excited."
Fielding the second youngest team in the nation, Penn State has had contributions from a host of young talent in 2014. Through 10 games, nine true freshmen have contributed for the Nittany Lions. That includes five on defense, three on offense and one on special teams. Against Temple, there were snaps on defense with three true freshmen lined up in the secondary. And not only have true freshmen played, the group has been instrumental in the team's success on both sides of the ball and on special teams.
Last Saturday's victory marked a special occasion for the Nittany Lion players who were on the roster in July of 2012. Especially for the group of 12 seniors, the sixth win and eligibility to extend the season with a bowl game is a boost. However, the Lions are solely focused on the task at hand this week. The program lives by the motto of one game at a time, and this week as no exception. The focus is on Illinois.
"We're focused on playing Illinois this week at the end of the year," said Franklin. "If people tell us we have an opportunity to go somewhere, we'll be excited about going there. But we're focused on Illinois, and that's how you make sure that you're able to come out and play as consistent as you possibly can week-in and week-out, by taking it one game at a time."
The Nittany Lions and Illini will meet for the 22nd time on Saturday.
Press Conference Notes
- Head coach James Franklin announced at the beginning of the weekly press conference that senior Ryan Keiser is out of the hospital and on his way back to State College on Tuesday.
- Franklin on the Illinois offense:
"No-huddle, spread offense. I think they've slowed it down a little bit compared to what we saw last year. I think they've slowed it down. They're a balanced attack. They're No. 2 in the Big Ten in passing offense. They're No. 4 in the Big Ten in passing efficiency. They're No. 3 in the Big Ten in completion percentage. Quarterback, Wes Lunt, we've known him for a long time. Actually recruited him. Him getting hurt I think set them back a little bit. He's back now, completing 65 percent of his passes. Excellent thrower."
- Franklin on the Illinois defense:
"They're a 4-3 defense. They'll press you on the outsides. They'll bring inside pressures. They're No. 6 in the Big Ten in fumbles recovered, No. 1 in the Big Ten in defensive touchdowns at three.
- Franklin on the Illinois special teams:
"They do a wide range of things trying to cause deception. Their coverage units do a really good job, and they're No. 8 in the nation in net punting. So, again, that goes back to us talking about field position."
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Statistically speaking, Penn State is ranked in the top five in three of the four major defensive categories. The Nittany Lions are No. 1 in the nation against the run (83.1 ypg.), No. 3 in the nation in total defense (265.6 ypg) and No. 4 in the nation in scoring defense (16.2 ppg).
Additionally, Penn State leads the nation in team pass efficiency defense (96.89), is sixth in third down conversion percentage defense (29.2 percent), is second in the nation in first downs defense (140 total), is 10th in passes intercepted (15) and is No. 16 in passing yards allowed (182.5 ypg).
Penn State is also one of just three teams in the nation to have not allowed a rushing play of 30 or more yards (Duke & Syracuse). The Lions also lead the nation with fewest plays of 30 or more yards allowed this season (7).
"You just never know who is going to make the big play with this group," senior Mike Hull said. "Coach Shoop puts us in great positions to make big plays all the time and we are just swarming to the ball every single play."
Visually, the Nittany Lions have been even more impressive. Playing with relentless pursuit and never-ending pressure, the Lions have forced their opponents to become one-dimensional on a weekly basis. The Nittany Lions have held their opponents to an average of 15.4 points and 139.9 yards below their season average coming into the games. In the last three games, Penn State foes are 7-of-47 on third down (14.9 percent).
"We bring the intensity every single time we step onto the field," junior defensive tackle Anthony Zettel said. "We love playing with that intensity and that has been a big key to our success."
Granted, there are still two regular season games to play, but the 2014 defense finds itself in elite company when it comes to some of Penn State's all-time best defensive units. The highlights include:
Rushing defense - 83.1 ypg in 2014 is the lowest since the 1986 national title team's 69.4 ypg average.
Total defense - 265.6 ypg in 2014 is the best since the 1978 team's 203.9 ypg average.
Scoring defense - 16.2 ppg in 2014 is the lowest mark since the 2009 team's 12.2 ppg average.
Yards per play allowed - 4.1 ypp in 2014 is the best since 1990 when the Lions allowed 4.0 ypp.
Just four times in Penn State history since 1966 have the Nittany Lions held their opponents to fewer than 85.0 rushing yards per game in a season. Only eight Penn State defenses have limited opponents to fewer than 270 offensive yards per game in a season.
Individually, Mike Hull is ranked No. 9 in the nation in total tackles (111). Hull is averaging 11.1 tackles per game. Only four players in Penn State history (Since 1970) have averaged 11.0 or more tackles per game during a season. Dan Connor is the most recent Nittany Lion to do so (11.1 tpg in 2007).
Penn State travels to Illinois in the final road game of the 2014 regular season on Saturday at noon (ESPN2).
"We are just playing as a complete defense right now," sophomore Austin Johnson said. "We feel good about the way we are playing, but we can't wait for the next game."
Lions in the Stat Rankings
Several Nittany Lions remain among the leaders in national and conference statistical categories. Here is a weekly breakdown of Penn State players in the stat rankings:
QB Christian Hackenberg - Hackenberg is third in the Big Ten in passing yards (2,318) and passing yards per game (231.8 ypg). The sophomore is second in the conference in completions per game (20.70).
WR DaeSean Hamilton - Hamilton is 15th nationally (first in the Big Ten) in receptions per game (6.8). He ranks third in the Big Ten in receiving yards per game at 78.7.
LB Mike Hull - Hull leads the Big Ten and is eighth in the nation in tackles (11.1 per game). He is second in the Big Ten and 20th nationally in solo tackles per game at 5.9.
K Sam Ficken - Ficken is leading in the nation and first in the Big Ten in field goals made per game at 2.20.
Early Look at the Illini
The Fighting Illini will look to snap a two-game losing streak on Saturday after back-to-back losses to No. 16 Ohio State (55-14) and Iowa (30-14). Illinois enters the week 11 matchup with a 4-6 overall record and a 1-5 mark in the Big Ten. The Illini defeated Minnesota on Oct. 25 (28-24) for their first Big Ten victory of the season.
Quarterback Wes Lunt missed three games due to injury, but was among the Big Ten's leaders in several statistical categories before getting hurt. Lunt returned to the starting lineup against Iowa last week. He has completed 65 percent of his passes in 2014 and thrown for 1,671 yards with 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
Defensively, linebacker Mason Menheim has been productive throughout the 2014 season. Averaging 9.8 tackles per game, Monheim ranks second in the Big Ten in tackling.
Penn State and Illinois will meet for 22nd time on Saturday. The Nittany Lions are 17-4 all-time against the Illini.
Extended Game Highlights from the Temple Game
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Military Appreciation Day Special Feature
By Tony Mancuso
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For most people, life doesn't follow a normal path or proceed according to a pre-determined plan.
Things often transpire in a manner that can test the mettle of a person and his or her ability to handle adversity. It's when things do not go according plan that you learn a lot about an individual's attitude, character and outlook on life.
Senior defensive back Devin Pryor is in his final few weeks as a playing member of the Penn State Football program, an opportunity he has not taken for granted when he earned a second chance to finish what he had started back in 2010.
But, before you can appreciate the meaning of Pryor's senior season as a Nittany Lion, you need to understand how he got to the position that he is in.
Born on Norton Air Force Base near San Bernardino, California, Pryor's childhood is unique to most student-athletes. His parents - Mary Hartley and Maurice Pryor - were both members of the United States Air Force during Pryor's childhood.
The Pryor family's residences included Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho and Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs while Devin was a child. When his mother was stationed in Alconbury, England, Pryor was just 10-years old.
A fifth-grader at the time, Pryor spent much of his childhood getting to know a group of friends before moving to another location.
"It really helped with my social skills," Pryor said. "When you are moving that much as a kid, you have to be out-going to meet new friends. You are going to make good friends, but you are going to be distanced from them when you move. So it helped me be outgoing and social."
By no means was it easy on him, but Pryor learned to adapt to change, and in the long run, he thinks it helped him grow.
"The process really taught me how to take care of myself and my young sister at the time," Pryor said.
Pryor, who has two younger sisters, Destiny and Sienna, spent the next seven years of his life in the small school system of Alconbury. With only 300 students in the high school, Pryor never had any intentions of playing a sport in college. Sure, he was encouraged to pursue a football career at a college in the United States by his coach in Alconbury, but it was off of Pryor's radar.
He was accepted into the Air Force Academy, Texas A&M and Penn State after applying to schools as he worked towards becoming an engineer. With extended family in mind, Pryor made the decision to attend Penn State.
"It was a unique choice to come here," Pryor said. "My dad has always been a Penn State fan. He's from Philadelphia. My mom is from Long Island."
The family component made the choice to become a Penn State student
easier, but he walked on to the campus of more than 40,000 students on the
first time ever on the day he arrived for school. Having attended a high school
with 300 students, Pryor's first few weeks on campus were an adjustment to say
"The academics at Penn State really stood out to me," said Pryor. "At the time, I had wanted to be an engineer. Penn State has one of the top engineering programs. I early enrolled to do a summer engineering program."
Like most Penn State freshmen, Pryor made a point to order season tickets to the home football games in Beaver Stadium prior to the 2010 season. He attended three games as a fan before making a decision to try out for the team in late September.
"My coaches in England always felt like I could play, but I had self doubt because I had never played in the States and had no idea what the competition was like," Pryor said.
Pryor successfully attracted the attention of the coaching staff, and he was one of four players the group called back.
"The next thing I know, I'm on the team," Pryor said. "Here I am standing next to Evan Royster and the rest of these guys who I had just been watching play from the stands. It was so surreal."
But things took a different path for Pryor during the latter stages of 2010.
"I wasn't nearly as serious about (playing) during my freshman year, so I was released," Pryor said.
Back to normal life as a college student in 2011, Pryor's career on the gridiron was not over quite yet.
During former head coach Bill O'Brien's first season in 2012, the coaching staff added Pryor back to the roster. With a second chance, Pryor was not going to be denied the opportunity to contribute to the team.
"It means a lot to not only me, but to be able to show the kids back in the tiny town in England that no dream is too big and no obstacle is too large," said Pryor.
During his second stint with the football program, Pryor knew how much the opportunity meant in the grand scheme of his journey.
"Coming out of such a small school, a lot of us over there just hoped to go to college, but the exposure is not nearly the same in terms of athletics," Pryor said. "This process made me realize that when you are put in a tough position, you can make the most of it with a good attitude. Walking on here, I've definitely had my struggles and my positives."
Without question, the highpoint of his college career came in August of 2013, just one week into training camp. As dependent of a service member, Pryor utilized the GI Bill for a portion of college. But the funds from the GI Bill had just run out. He called his mother to inform her of the news. From there the two needed to set up a loan to cover the expenses of his final two years as a college student.
But things took a different path just two days after the loan had been processed.
Pryor received a phone call that Coach O'Brien needed to see him in his office.
"I never thought was going to be a good thing," Pryor joked.
O'Brien told Pryor that he and the coaching staff felt as though Pryor deserved a scholarship for the 2013 season because of his efforts and dedication to the football program. After walking out of the office, he immediately called his mom to tell her to cancel the loan. Thinking the worst, Pryor's mom thought he had been released again from the team.
But, the exciting news Pryor revealed brought his mom to tears.
Pryor graduated this past August with a degree in energy business and finance, and he is now working towards a second degree, in economics. Walking across the stage with pride, he became a first generation Pryor to earn a college degree.
"It's so humbling to have that degree," he said.
When his time at Penn State is complete, Pryor would like to pursue a career in the financial field of the automobile industry. He has also looked at the military, a profession near and dear to his heart.
"We really don't give the troops enough credit for what they do, so this Military Appreciation Day game is a great opportunity for us to show what they mean to us," Pryor said. "Just like in football, there is a lot more that goes on behind the scenes with the troops that they don't get credit for."
The military appreciation recognition today holds a special meaning to Pryor.
"Just seeing how hard my mom worked every day, and it often went unrecognized," said Pryor. "Any chance we get to say thank you is huge. It may not seem like a lot to the Penn State fans, but the men and women really appreciate it. My mom certainly does."
Pryor's journey to Happy Valley spanned the globe, but his hard work and commitment to the football program earned the right to become a scholarship player. His background is far from a normal path to the highest level of college athletics, but Pryor's drive never wavered.
"You just have to make the most of the hand you are dealt," Pryor said.
Perseverance guided Pryor to the position he is in today, and his time at Penn State will stick with him forever.
"I'm just going to remember the sense of family that is within Penn State and this football program," Pryor said. "And it never mattered how productive you were on the game field. The fans and supporters were there no matter what. The support you feel rivals your own family to be honest with you."
VIDEO: Post-game Player Interviews vs. Temple
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin talks with GoPSUsports.com following Saturday's 30-13 victory over Temple in Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions are 6-4 heading into the penultimate regular season game on the schedule at Illinois next week.
Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to GoPSUsports.com's live, interactive
coverage of the 2014 football season. Tune in for live blog coverage from all
12 games on the schedule. The Nittany Lions wrap up the non-conference slate with a matchup against in-state foe Temple.
Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony