21 October 2006

Halftime: Illinois 9, Penn State 3

Illinois won the opening toss (this is I think the fourth in a row that Penn State has lost) and deferred to the second half. Penn State moved the ball down the field and (predictably) stalled in Illinois territory. Fortunately, Kevin Kelly kicked a 49 yard field goal (tied his career high) that hit the crossbar and went through to put Penn State on the board 3-0.

After trading possessions Illinois put together a nice drive (mostly running the ball) and moved down the field to tie the game with a 41 yard field goal. After a second consecutive three and out by Penn State's offense, Illini running back Rashard Mendenhall busted off a 79 yard run and only a nice run and tackle by cornerback Justin King prevented the touchdown. That tackle proved to be key as Penn State's defense held Illinois to a second field goal.

A block in the back penalty on the ensuing kickoff gave Penn State horrendous field position inside their own 5 yard line. Despite a nice pass from Anthony Morelli to Derrick Williams to convert 3rd and 11, Illinois intercepted a tipped the next Morelli pass and returned it to the Penn State 16 yard line. Penn State's defense finally woke up on the next play when defensive tackle Ed Johnson sacked Illini quarterback Juice Williams. The crowd woke up as well, and forced an Illinois timeout on 3rd and 17. The defense held Illinois to its third field goal.

The Nittany Lion offense appeared to wake up as well. After a nice kickoff return by freshman A.J. Wallace, Tony Hunt ran up the middle for a quick 14 yard gain. Morelli found Deon Butler, and Penn State benefited from a pass interference against Derrick Williams to continue moving the ball down the field. Morelli then found Jordan Norwood on a quick bubble screen, Butler again on 3rd and 2. Once again the Nittany Lion offense stalled in Illinois territory, and this time Kevin Kelly missed the field goal.

Illinois responded by continuing to successfully run the ball on the option. The normally stout Nittany Lion run defense gave up 147 rushing yards in the first half (214 total yards). Fortunately they were able to prevent the break and held Illinois to only three field goals. The defensive front was able to get decent pressure on Williams (three sacks) but sloppy tackling prevented a couple of additional sacks.

On offense Morelli cannot seem to avoid a sack as if his life depended on it. Tony Hunt had only 26 yards on 9 carries. The offense has been absolutely pathetic (95 total yards in the first half). Comparisons to the 2004 season don't seem far-fetched at this point.

Illinois gets the ball to start the second half. Once again, it'll be up to the Penn State defense to keep the Nittany Lions in the game, and hoping the offense will wake up, finally.
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