Players to watch: Illinois vs. Penn State

 

 

Illinois: Xavier Fulton, Martin O’Donnell, Ryan McDonald, Jon Asamoah and Akim Millington

Position: Offensive Line

Illinois’ offensive line has played a big role in the Illini’s ability to run the ball this season. The line has paved the way for the Illini to once again lead the conference in rushing, averaging 265.5 yards a game on the ground. The big guys up front have led the Illini to 11 rushing touchdowns this season and 5.5 yards per carry. They will face their biggest test of the year when Penn State comes to Champaign with the conference’s best rush defense. If the Illini’s offensive front can open holes for running back Rashard Mendenhall and protect quarterback Juice Williams, Illinois could pull an upset and double its victory total from last season in just the fifth game.

Penn State: Josh Gaines, Jared Odrick, Ollie Ogbu and Maurice Evans

Position: Defensive Line

The Nittany Lions’ defense is tops in the Big Ten at defending the run. Penn State has allowed just 219 yards on the ground through its first four games – that’s only five more yards than Rashard Mendenhall had last weekend against Indiana. It all starts up front for the Nittany Lions. Their defensive line has played a big role in holding opponents to just 54.8 yards rushing a game. Penn State is second in the Big Ten in sacks this season with 19, led by Maurice Evans, who is tied with Dan Connor for the team lead with three. If the Nittany Lions front can eliminate the run and force Illinois to pass the ball, it could be a long day for the Illini.