Saturday's forecast doesn't call for sunshine and warmth. In fact, it's supposed to be chilly and wet all game which means the people that are going to be in attendance should bundle up and bring a poncho. Apparently, NCAA '14 thinks that a wet Saturday morning/afternoon will provide a MAJOR boost to the Illini kicking game as David Reisner would kick 6 field goals in this week's simulation.
The Illini would open the first half with the football, and instantly made it clear that our passing game was not going to handle the rain well as Wes Lunt opened the game throwing a pick at the Illini 30. Penn St didn't take long to convert as Christian Hackenburg would hit Geno Lewis from 12 yards out (get used to hearing this). Upon getting the ball back, the Illini adapted quickly to the run game. Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young would both touch the football a combined 53 times and would keep the Illini afloat in this one. They would move the football down the field in 7 plays and David Reisner would bang home a 34 yard field goal.
After the Illini defense held the Fighting Hackenbergs to a 3 and out on their next possession, it was Ferguson and Young that would again drive the Illini into the redzone. However, the Illini would struggle to find the endzone, and Reisner added another field goal from 24 yards to cut the Nittany Lion lead to 7-6. Que the Illini defense, who would only allow 366 yards of total offense in this game to enter and hold the Lions to another punt. V'Angelo Bentley would return the ball 27 yards and into Penn St territory, where Lunt would set up a well-executed screen pass to J-Ferg for 20 yards and into field goal range where Reisner would connect from 41 yards out. After the 1st Quarter, the score was 9-7 Illinois.
Second Quarter, and the Illini defense would again hold strong. Only allowing a Penn St field goal midway through the period, the Lions would only have the football for 5 minutes this quarter. This gave Donovonn Young a chance to shine as he would set up the next Illini scoring drive of 44 yards. Again however, the Illini would fail to find the endzone and Reisner remained true from 37 yards (that's 4 field goals if you're keeping track at home).
With a 12-7 lead, the defense would start to tighten the screws on Hackenberg and the PSU offense. They would blitz the quarterback 9 times in the second quarter, drawing 3 sacks and causing one fumble that was recovered by Illinois. Riding momentum, the Illini would manage to move the football inside the 10 yard line, but missed throws from Wes and a STUPID screen pass call on 3rd down led to Reisner's 5th field goal of the half. Sam Ficken would add a field goal of his own, but things were looking good for Illinois heading into halftime.
Halftime Score: ILLINI ~ 15 Penn State ~ 10
Enter, the Illini defense yet again. Hackenburg on his second throw from scrimmage would hit Taylor Barton right in the numbers, and he would take the ball to the house giving the Illini a 22-10 lead out of the gates. Clearly rattled, the Fighting Hackenburgs would resort to Bill Belton ball and try to move the offense on the ground. No luck, as a sold out Illini defense was ready on every play. Another punt, and another chance for the Illini offense to go to work. Lunt and the offense would try to move the ball through the air in the second half, and found some early success as they would set up the 6th field goal from Reisner (this time from 29 yards out) and putting the Illini ahead 25-10.
Trying to score before the end of the 3rd quarter, the Lions focused all of their attention on Bill Belton. He would get the nod of 5 consecutive plays and moved the ball across midfield late in the quarter. Hackenberg was then given the go to air out the football. His plan was to try and hit a streaking DaeSean Hamilton in the endzone, but a short throw resulted in an easy interception and return for V'Angelo. Getting the ball back into Lion territory was all Wes Lunt needed, as he would strike Geronimo Allison in the endzone from 42 yards away to give the Illini a 32-10 lead heading into the 4th quarter.
It's times like this where Illini fans get frustrated and stressed, as the traditional "bend, don't break" defensive scheme tends to rear it's ugly head. Sure enough, Hackenburg and the Lions would score quickly on their opening drive of the final quarter. Lunt would try and answer through the air, but would his efforts would result in another interception by the Penn St defense. This lead to a field goal of 39 yards from Sam Ficken, and just like that the Illini lead was cut to 32-20.
With just under 7 minutes remaining in the game, Lunt and the Illini offense looked to put the game away. Ferguson and Young would get the ball on every play and successfully ran the clock inside of 4 minutes. A fumbled exchange from Lunt to Donovonn Young would keep the Illini off the scoreboard AND gave the ball back to Penn St with a chance to score late. Sure enough, Hackenberg would move the ball 87 yards down the field in just over 2 minutes and found Belton wide open in the endzone. Just like that, the lead was down to just 5 and the Lions were an onside kick recovery away from potentially winning the game. Thankfully, the ball bounced into the arms of an Illini player, and the boys in Orange and Blue would run out the clock.