Nittany Lions Fall at Illinois, 27-20
Sept. 29, 2007
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Penn State moved the ball, gaining 427 yards, but was again hurt by turnovers, as Illinois captured a 27-20 win here in front of 57,078 in Memorial Stadium.
No. 19 Penn State fell to 3-2 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten, while the Illini improved to 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the conference. Illinois beat a ranked team for the first time since defeating Ohio State in 2001.
Quarterback Anthony Morelli was 21 of 38 for a career-high 298 yards, but was intercepted three times, all coming inside the Illinois 30-yard-line. Derrick Williams made a season-high five receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown, Deon Butler had four catches for 48 yards and Jordan Norwood made three grabs for 89 yards.
The Penn State defense limited Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall to 76 yards on 18 carries (4.2). He entered the game averaging 134.0 ypg and 7.0 yards per carry.
Junior linebacker Sean Lee recorded a career-high 17 tackles, the most by a Nittany Lion since Paul Posluszny has 22 stops at Northwestern in 2005. Lee has recorded double figure tackles the last three games. Senior All-America linebacker Dan Connor made 11 stops, with a tackle for loss and two pass break-ups and cornerback Lydell Sargeant had seven hits.
The Nittany Lions got the ball first and scored on their opening possession. A 37-yard completion from Morelli to Chris Bell took the ball to the Illinois 7. But, the Lions were forced to settle for a 26-yard field goal by Kevin Kelly, the 45th of his career, moving into a tie with Brett Conway for third place on the school career list.
The Fighting Illini, though, quickly took the lead on a 90-yard kickoff return by freshman Arrelious Benn to take a 7-3 lead. The kickoff return touchdown was the first against Penn State since Michigan State's Derrick Mason in 1994.
Illinois extended its lead to 14-3 on a two-yard run by Rashard Mendenhall with 2:03 left in the first quarter.
Penn State quickly responded, driving 73 yards in just three plays. A 42-yard catch and run by Jordan Norwood set-up a 24-yard scoring strike from Morelli to Derrick Williams with :42 left in an exciting opening period. Penn State gained 157 yards on 16 plays (9.5 avg) in the first quarter.
Junior Justin King ended Illinois' next possession with an interception in the end zone, his second of the season. A 23-yard run by Williams took the ball the Penn State 41. But, on the next play Rodney Kinlaw fumbled and the Illini recovered at the PSU 40. Two plays later, quarterback Juice Williams connected with Benn, who broke three tackles and scored from 29 yards out with 10:34 to play in the second frame.
The Nittany Lions again quickly retaliated, as Norwood hauled in a career-long 43-yard reception to the Illinois 7. Austin Scott bulled in from the seven to make it 21-17 with 8:54 left in the second quarter.
A career-long 70-yard punt by Jeremy Boone was tied for the seventh-longest in school history and took the ball from the PSU 8 to the Illinois 22. Penn State had an opportunity to draw closer near the end of the first half, but Kevin Kelly's 51-yard field goal attempt was wide. The Nittany Lions gained 256 yards in the first half, with Morelli going 11 of 17 for 176 yards and one score.
On Illinois' first possession of the second half, Jason Reda connected on a 47-yard field goal into the win, extending the lead to 24-17.
Tony Davis grabbed his second career interception at the Illinois 37. Behind Kinlaw, the Lions moved to the Illinois 1, but on third down, Kinlaw was dropped for a two-yard loss. Kelly's 20-yard field goal drew Penn State within 24-20 with 6:09 left in the third frame.
Late in the third quarter, the Nittany Lions forced a three-and-out and got the ball at the Illinois 27 after an interference penalty on Williams' fair catch on a punt. But, on third down, Morelli was picked off by Illinois' J Leman at the Illini 3.
The Penn State defense forced another quick punt and the Lions took over at their own 36. A 21-yard completion to tight end Andrew Quarless and a 16-yard pass to Deon Butler were the key plays in getting the ball the Illinois 19. But, Austin Scott was dropped for a six-yard loss and Morelli was intercepted on the Penn State sideline by Vontae Davis to end the drive.
Reserve quarterback Eddie McGee was in for Illinois' next series and he delivered a 53-yard run, with Lydell Sargeant making the touchdown saving tackle at the PSU 16. The run was the first above yards allowed by Penn State this season. The defense did not allow the hosts to advance any further and Reda connected on a 33-yard field goal to make it 27-20 with 7:00 to play.
Penn State took possession at its own 10 and put together another productive drive. Morelli hit Williams on a 47-yard completion to the Illinois 31. The Lions advanced to the Illini 19, but on 4th and 13, Morelli scrambled and was near the first down line when he was hit and the fumble was recovered by Scott at the 13, but the Illini took over.
Penn State got the ball once more with :47 to play at the Illinois 42, but out of timeouts. On third down, Kevin Mitchell grabbed a Morelli pass at the Illini 9 to end the Nittany Lions' comeback hopes.
The Nittany Lions return to Beaver Stadium next Saturday, hosting Iowa (2-3, 0-2) at 3:30 p.m. The clash will be an ABC regional telecast, with ESPN2 carrying the game to markets that do not receive the game on their ABC affiliate. Penn State plays four of its next five games at home.