Penn State is far from the only Big Ten squad that's had an up-and-down start to 2012. As the Nittany Lions prepare to head to Illinois for Saturday's conference opener, we check in with Marcus Jackson of the Champaign News-Gazette for some insight on what's gone right and wrong for the Fighting Illini.
Nathan Scheelhaase (2) has split time at quarterback with Reilly O'Toole this season.
Lions247: Did Nathan Scheelhaase getting pulled from last week's game have anything to do with his ankle injury or was it simply his ineffectiveness? What is he doing well and not-so-well this season and what does Reilly O'Toole bring to the lineup?
Jackson: We've gotten two different answers on that one. After the game, Beckman said the team wasn't moving the ball with Scheelhaase in the game and he wanted to give O'Toole a chance. When asked if the move was injury-related, he simply said 'No'. On Monday, he said Scheelhaase took a big hit early in the game and he later removed him as a precaution and to protect him. He did say Monday that "Nathan Scheelhaase is our starting quarterback'. Scheelhaase has thrown the ball well this season (19 for 29) but the ankle has limited his ability to run. O'Toole doesn't run as well as Scheelhaase, but he's a passer and has played well the past couple of weeks after a rough outing at ASU.
L247: What have been the biggest problems for the defense, which got gashed by Louisiana Tech and Arizona State and ranks last in the conference in points allowed?
Jackson: It seems as though the players haven't bought into the scheme of new defensive coordinator Tim Banks. Defensive tackle Akeem Spence said earlier this week that the defense did more blitzing last week and that's the style they got comfortable with. There was also some finger-pointing at the secondary for blown coverages. There is some NFL talent on the defense, as many as four guys, but everyone isn't on the same page.
L247: Are the running game's struggles (3.2 yards per carry) due more to the offensive line or the running backs? Has Josh Ferguson taken the featured role from Donovonn Young?
Jackson: It has more to do with shaky offensive line play than the running backs. Center Graham Pocic missed the last two games and tackle Hugh Thornton missed most of last week's game. There have been some young guys shuffling in and out and the group is still ironing out some kinks. The quarterbacks have also been making the wrong reads on the read option, leaving the backs with little room to run. Josh Ferguson is dangerous in space and Donovonn Young can pick up the tough yards in between the tackles.
L247: How will Illinois look to limit Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson, who is off to a great start?
Jackson: Well, they'll likely put their best corner, Terry Hawthorne, on him and give him some help with a safety over the top. LA Tech's Quinton Patton torched Hawthorne last week and there was some confusion with the safeties and Hawthorne didn't get much help. The Illinois pass rush will also have to step up and get some pressure on Matt McGloin to help out the guys in the secondary.
L247: Did Illinois fans feel Tim Beckman was justified in sending so many coaches to Penn State in the wake of the NCAA sanctions? Some of Penn State's players weren't very happy about it, but has that even been an issue people talk about in Champaign?
Jackson: They were very much split on the issue. There were some who thought it was in poor taste and there were others who liked it because they thought he was willing to do whatever it took to improve the program. The issue was a big deal in the week or two following the trip to State College, but it died down after that. Quite frankly, it had been forgotten until Monday when the media covering Penn State brought it up Monday with Beckman. Most of us had forgotten about it and were so wrapped up in wondering what the heck was wrong with the team after the blowout. It's very understandable that it's an issue there and I'm sure there will be some emotion about it on the field Saturday.
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