Quarterback Matt McGloin discusses Penn State's 35-7 win over Illinois. (Video by Dan Norton)
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Penn State beat Illinois, 35-7, Saturday in a lopsided contest at Memorial Stadium.
The Nittany Lions (3-2, 1-0 Big Ten) started off slow on a three-and-out, but the Fighting Illini (2-3, 0-1 Big Ten) fumbled Alex Butterworth’s first punt of the day. Penn State capitalized on the opportunity, and Zach Zwinak punched the ball into the endzone for the Lions’ first rushing touchdown by a running back this season.
Following that drive, the Lions stopped Illinois immediately and recovered the ball on a punt. Starting from his own 35 yard line, McGloin connected with Brandon Moseby-Felder, Allen Robinson and Kyle Carter to reach the Illinois 1-yard line. From there, McGloin snuck the ball in himself to put Penn State up 14-0.
For the Lions’ third touchdown, McGloin found tight end Matt Lehman in the endzone. He was lit up by Illinois safety Earnest Thomas, who was flagged for a head-to-head hit. Lehman was OK, but officials deemed the contact so flagrant that they ejected Thomas from the game.
For the most part, Penn State’s defense contained the Illini. Michael Mauti was all over the place, whether at linebacker or on special teams. He returned an interception for 99 yards, only to be tackled at the Illinois 1-yard line. With one second left, coach Bill O’Brien sent Sam Ficken out to kick an 18-yard chip shot, but it was blocked.
“Hindsight being 20/20, I should have gone for a touchdown there and I take the blame for that,” O’Brien said. “We have to execute better on the field goal, but on the one yard line we’ve got to be able to punch it in there and I though it was a little deeper than that.”
The Illini resorted to a trick play in the third quarter to finally get on the scoreboard. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase hit tailback Josh Ferguson on a backward pass behind the line scrimmage. Ferguson lobbed the football to a wide open Spencer Harris in the endzone for the touchdown.
Penn State responded two drives later with several short bursts from Zwinak. McGloin ultimately crossed the plane with another 1-yard sneak. Zwinak had his turn again a few minutes later after Mauti stole his second pick of the game.
Illinois coach Tim Beckman said Illinois’ goal was to limit Penn State to three points when the Lions broke into the redzone. Sam Ficken missed two field goals in the first half — a 47-yarder and the 18-yarder that was blocked.
The Lions, who scored five touchdowns, had other plans.
“Penn State did a great job coming in here, playing physical football, but when you get the ball inside the 30, in the red zone, that’s the key to the game,” Beckman said. “We’ve got to force them to kick field goals or if we’re on a short field, we cannot give up touchdowns.”
By the fourth quarter, the already sparse Illinois crowd had thinned out considerably, as fans had seen enough of the blowout. After starting the season 0-2, Penn State has won its last three games by double digits.
“It’s huge for us [to start] the Big Ten with a win like that,” defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. “Hopefully, it’s a momentum shifter for us to go forward into the Big Ten season.”
Center Matt Stankiewitch said that it was especially important for Penn State to pick up its first road win. The Lions dropped a 17-16 heartbreaker at Virginia a few weeks ago.
Mauti added that they’re looking at every game as equally important in 2012 because they know they’re season is over on Nov. 24.
“We have only a fixed number of games, so we’re just going to be just as rowdy and just as jacked up for every game,” he said.
Matt McGloin - 18/30, 211 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Nathan Scheelhaase - 28/46, 270 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INT
Josh Ferguson - 1/1, 22 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Zach Zwinak - 19 attempts, 100 yards, 2 TDs
Bill Belton - 16 attempts, 65 yards, 0 TDs
Donovonn Young - 6 attempts, 63 yards, 0 TDs
Nathan Scheelhaase - 11 attempts, 7 yards, 0 TDs
Matt Lehman - 5 catches, 70 yards, 1 TDs
Kyle Carter - 3 catches, 45 yards, 0 TDs
Ryan Lankford - 7 catches, 104 yards, 0 TDs
Spencer Harris - 3 catches, 41 yards, 1 TDs