Illini fall short against Nittany Lions

By Courtney Linehan

Illinois junior place kicker Jason Reda tied his career high in field goals with four in Saturday’s game at Penn State.

Reda helped give the Illini a 9-3 halftime lead over the Nittany Lions with field goals of 41, 21 and 40 yards. He added a 36-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to pull the Illini to within five points of Penn State.

“Personally my kickoffs weren’t what they needed to be and haven’t been as good as they should be, and obviously we lost the game so it’s hard happy to be about my four field goals,” Reda said.

His four field goals tied his career high for field goals in a game. Reda kicked four field goals in Illinois 40-19 victory over San Jose State on Sept. 10, 2005.

Option works well for Illini

Going into Saturday’s game Penn State was giving up just 84.7 rushing yards per game, but the Illini managed to solve the Nittany Lions’ rush defense, piling up 202 yards on the ground on 22 carries.

Most of the Illini’s success in the ground game came via the use of the option. More than half of the Illini’s rushing yards came from option runs.

“We ran a couple options and a couple tosses and they worked well so we just kept with that,” sophomore running back Rashard Mendenhall said. “They were working for big gains so we kept doing it and having success and breaking it outside.”

A large chunk of the Illini’s rushing yards came on Mendenhall’s 79-yard run that set up a 21-yard field goal by Reda. Mendenhall’s run was the 11th longest play in Illinois history and the longest offensive play since Antonio Harris’ 84-yard run against Purdue on Oct. 12, 2002 at Memorial Stadium.

Field position

Illinois’ offense had to work with a long field all day.

On average, the Illini started its drives from its own 23-yard line. They were pushed back inside the 15-yard line five times, including two inside the five.

One reason the Illini were pinned back deep in its own territory most of the day was the work of Penn State senior punter Jeremy Kapinos. Kapinos totaled 365 punting yards on eight punts and averaged 45.6 yards per punt, including two of 50-plus yards.

Big day for Scirrotto

Sophomore safety Anthony Scirrotto of the Nittany Lions will be sad to see the Illini leave Happy Valley.

Scirrotto was a thorn in the Illini’s side all day, especially Illinois freshman quarterback Juice Williams. Scirrotto intercepted Williams twice on the day and returned Illinois’ onside kick attempt for a touchdown to seal the Nittany Lions’ 26-12 victory.

“(Scirrotto) is a great player,” head coach Ron Zook said. “Obviously we helped him out a bit with the balls that Juice threw, but he was where he was supposed to be and he made the plays. It’s one thing to be in position to make plays and then it’s another thing to actually make the plays.”

Scirroto’s two interceptions against the Illini give him a team high four picks on the season.

Injury update

Illinois freshman Juice Williams was treated for bruises and soreness following the game. Williams threw for 156 yards on 13-of-33 passing but was intercepted twice and was sacked six times for a loss of 44 yards.

Quote of the day

“Coach Zook was a little perturbed today and it’s because we just didn’t execute,” – sophomore linebacker Britt Miller.