Illinois vs. Penn State: Three matchups to watch

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  • Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg looks for an open teammate against Northwestern at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pa., on Sept. 27. 

  • Illinois’ DeJazz Woods (90) tackles Iowa’s Jonathon Parker (10) during the game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. The Illini lost 30-14.

  • Illinois’ Wes Lunt winds up for a pass during the game against Iowa at Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

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The Illinois football program is at a crossroads. Win Saturday against Penn State and Tim Beckman’s team keeps its bowl chances alive. Lose and the program most likely has a new head coach for 2015.

These are the matchups that will determine Beckman’s future.

Penn State offensive line vs. Illinois defensive line

The Illini have struggled lately with pressuring opposing quarterbacks. To disrupt the Nittany Lions and Hackenberg’s rhythm, Jihad Ward and his fellow lineman will need to take full advantage of a weak Penn State line. Hackenberg has already been sacked 37 times and could break the current Big Ten record of 46 sacks. 

Christian Hackenberg vs. Illinois defense

The Illini defense is reeling after allowing nearly 600 yards to Iowa offense. Don’t let his stats fool you: Hackenberg does not make things any easier. Defensive coordinator Tim Banks knows Hackenberg still possesses one of the best arms in the nation.

Wes Lunt vs. Penn State defense

Wes Lunt was not good by any means against Iowa. Attribute it to rust, but he and the offense now face a Penn State defense currently third in the nation in total defense. The Nittany Lions allow an average of 83.1 rushing yards per game, so chances are the Illini running game will be non-existent come Saturday. This game, and Beckman’s career, ride on Lunt’s right shoulder.