Matchups to watch in Illinois-Penn State game

By Masaki Sugimoto

Illinois secondary vs. Penn State Receivers

The Illini secondary had issues covering Wisconsin’s Alex Erickson in key moments last week. Another tall order is coming up against Penn State and its two top receivers. Both Chris Godwin and DaeSean Hamilton are on the Biletnekoff watch list. Both are players that can rip a defense wide open. The sophomore duo combined for 231 yards and two touchdowns on a mere nine combined catches. The rest of the receiving corps had big plays as well, with everyone beside Godwin and Hamilton averaging 21 yards a catch and notching one touchdown. Big plays have been taking the Illini out of games during conference play. Whether it be a long run or a deep pass, the Illini tend to get burned at the wrong times. If Hackenberg’s weapons aren’t stopped, the Illini will have a long plane ride home.

Illinois backfield vs. Penn State’s front seven

Illinois’ run game has been bad since the injury of Josh Ferguson. The Illini rank last in the conference when it comes ground production. His return is possible, but regardless Ke’Shawn Vaughn will have to step up big time as well. Luckily for the Illini, they won’t be facing a stout run defense. Penn State gives up roughly 157 yards a game on the ground. Bill Cubit will likely look to the run game, especially considering that its a road game. On top of that, the Nittany Lions are ranked third in the conference when it comes to defending the pass. Getting his players into the groove will be important, because poor play far from home is what doomed the Illini against North Carolina earlier in the season. Whoever suits up in the backfield can get the game going, the Illini have a legitimate chance to be 5-3.

Christian Hackenberg vs. Wes Lunt

Wes Lunt and Christian Hackenberg are probably the two quarterbacks from each division that people look at and ask “could they go pro?” Both players are juniors, both have the size, both have the questioning from pro scouts. The two juniors don’t really seem like candidates to get any draft buzz anytime this year, but it is rare you see two players who seem to have the tools to go to the next level play each other in college. Lunt had 278 yards against Wisconsin, while Hackenberg had 315 yards for three touchdowns against Maryland last week. This may be a proving ground for both players, with Penn State having the potential to go over the top, and Illinois still trying to sniff out bowl eligibility. This could be the only time the two quarterbacks face off in their college careers, and hopefully the best versions of themselves will appear for a potential gun slinging match up.JT