Penn State – Illinois pre-game notes

Penn State will face a tough test against Illinois in the snow at Beaver Stadium. (Jake Kaplan/Staff)

Joe Paterno didn’t hesitate in making it known that today’s game against Illinois will be the toughest for his 7-1 Nittany Lions (4-0 Big Ten) since they played Alabama on Sept. 10. The Fighting Illini (6-2, 2-2) enter having lost two straight games – against Ohio State and at Purdue – after winning their first six.

“You look at it. You don't just stare at any one part of their game,” Paterno said Tuesday. “You've got to be ready for good solid all‑around squad. We've got to play a better football game than we've played all year.”

With a few hours left before kickoff at Beaver Stadium and a heavy snowfall doing its best to aid today’s student section “Whiteout,” here are some pre-game notes to help preview today’s game.

-Believe it or not, Penn State controls its own destiny and has a legitimate shot at earning a berth in the first Big Ten championship game on Dec. 3 in Indianapolis. With a 4-0 conference record, the Lions sit alone atop the Leaders Division with games left against Illinois (today), Nebraska (Nov. 12), at Ohio State (Nov. 19) and at Wisconsin (Nov. 26).

-With a win today, Paterno would pass the late Eddie Robinson of Grambling State (Division I-AA) in career wins and gain sole possession of second place with 409 victories. The winningest coach in major college football history would also become the winningest coach in Division I football history. 

-Penn State is 14-4 all-time against Illinois, but suffered its most crushing loss of last season – a 33-13 loss on Homecoming weekend – at the hands of the Illini. One could bet that loss will be in the back of Penn State’s players’ minds today.

-Penn State running back Silas Redd, who has four straight 100-yard rushing games, has 556 yards on 103 attempts (5.5 yards per carry) over the last four games. Redd has just three yards less than Western Kentucky’s Bobby Rainey, who entered today with the most rushing yards in the nation in October. Redd suffered a stinger against Northwestern last Saturday but said on Wednesday he will be ready to play against the Illini today.

-Illinois’ offense features the nation’s leader in receiving yards (entering this week’s games) in senior wide receiver A.J. Jenkins. The All-America and Biletnikoff Award candidate has 987 receiving yards on 62 catches and seven touchdowns. The 6-foot, 190-pound wideout accounts for 56.6 percent of Illinois’ receiving yards, which is the most in the country by more than 10 percent.

-Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus, who entered the day leading the nation with 10 sacks, is the only player in the Big Ten with more tackles for loss than Devon Still. Mercilus has 15 tackles for a loss of 75 yards, while Still has 12 for 55 yards.

--Jake Kaplan