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UPDATED: O'Brien does best to avoid Illinois coach in PSU win

September 30, 2012
By Cory Giger (cgiger@altoonamirror.com) , The Altoona Mirror

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Bill O'Brien wanted nothing to do with Illinois coach Tim Beckman.

Not before the game, when they didn't speak as O'Brien avoided Beckman, who hung around midfield appearing to want to talk with the Penn State coach.

Not after the game, when O'Brien sprinted toward Beckman and shook hands for about 1/100th of a second before running off.

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And not during the postgame, when O'Brien once again chose to take the high road concerning his anger over a fellow Big Ten coach trying to recruit Penn State's players after the NCAA sanctions were levied.

Know this for sure: O'Brien was angry, but rather than talking about it publicly, he let his team do the talking on the field Saturday with a whooping of Beckman's Illini, 35-7, before a heavily inflated announced crowd of 46,734 at Memorial Stadium.

Also know this: Of O'Brien's three wins as a first-year head coach, this one was by far the most satisfying.

Not that he publicly let on about it in any way.

"It's a Big Ten win," O'Brien said. "It's a really big win for us to get off on the right foot in the Big Ten. These games are not easy. This conference is tough, so any time you can get off on the right foot that's a big deal."

Pressed on the satisfaction of beating Illinois given all the hubbub over the recruiting situation, O'Brien still would only say, "It's just a Big Ten win. It's a big win. It's something our players really worked hard for and our coaching staff. Good team win."

To their credit, O'Brien and the Penn State players downplayed the recruiting stuff all week. They may have felt like Beckman was trying to kick a wounded dog while it was down with the typically taboo in-conference recruiting issue, but they elected not to discuss their frustration during the week.

"That's how Coach O'Brien wants it, and that's how we want it, too," defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. "We don't want to give them any extra motivation or anything like that. ... We knew that if we came out here and played our game that everything would go our way, and that's what happened today."

That's exactly what happened, as Penn State (3-2, 1-0 Big Ten) cashed in on numerous early mistakes by Illinois to build a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter. It was 21-0 at the half, and as the Illini (2-3, 0-1) kept making mistakes, the Lions poured it on and had a 35-7 lead with 14 minutes remaining.

Penn State thought its third straight win could have been an even bigger blowout.

"We felt like we could have put up a lot more points than 35 today," said quarterback Matt McGloin, who was 18-of-30 for 211 yards with one passing TD and two 1-yard keepers on the ground. "We're happy with the win, but it's nowhere near where we should be."

McGloin came about as close as anyone on the team to criticizing Beckman's recruiting decision.

"What they did or didn't do, it's still not right, and we used a little bit of motivation for that," McGloin said.

Illinois muffed a punt after PSU's first offensive series, then ran into kicker Sam Ficken as he made a 24-yard field goal. The Lions took the points off the board and scored two plays later, and the next time they got the ball they cashed in on a hit to the head penalty by Illini defensive back Terry Hawthorne to help set up a score.

That second touchdown also came about after a nifty play that saw tight end Kyle Carter line up in the backfield before rolling out into the flat as a receiving target for a 19-yard gain to the Illinois 15.

"Kyle is such a great athlete," McGloin said. "You can put him in the backfield, you can split him out wide, put him at tight end. He can do a number of things for us. That's a very tough matchup for defenses because if he's coming out of the backfield and running routes that's a tough matchup for anybody."

Penn State's offensive line proved to be too tough of a matchup for Illinois' highly touted defensive line, helping the Lions run for 173 yards (albeit on only a 3.3 average).

The stats would tell you the game was close -- as Illinois had 366 yards to 384 for PSU -- but those stats lied. The Lions' defense, sparked by linebacker Michael Mauti's two interceptions, had control, and despite making several mistakes, the offense was plenty good enough to dominate the reeling Illini.

And to give O'Brien vindication.

"I've said my peace on that in the summertime," the coach said when asked again about the recruiting issue. "The sanctions are what they are. The people who recruited our kids played within the rules. But at the end of the day we came here and played a good football game against a tough team. You guys can figure the rest out."

SCORING SUMMARY

FIRST QUARTER

Penn State 7, Illinois 0: Illinois giftwrapped a TD for the Lions with two huge mistakes on special teams. PSU went three-and-out on offense to start the game, but Tommy Davis fumbled the punt, and Michael Fuhrman recovered for the Lions at the Illinois 26. Penn State stalled at the 7 and had to settle for a 24-yard field from Sam Ficken -- which was good -- but V'Angelo Bentley ran into the kicker to give PSU first-and-goal at the 3. Zach Zwinak scored from a yard out two plays later with 10:41 left in the quarter.

Penn State 14, Illinois 0: Penn State took advantage of another big Illinois mistake and had a great play call on third down that led to an eventual TD. Illinois' Terry Hawthorne was flagged for targeting the head on a 10-yard reception by Brandon Moseby-Felder, and the 15-yard penalty moved the ball to the Illini 40. On third-and-4 at the 34, tight end Kyle Carter was lined up at fullback and rolled out for a 19-yard catch to the 15. Matt McGloin found Allen Robinson for 15 yards to the 1, and two plays later McGloin took it in on the sneak with 6:29 to go in the half. The Illini threatened late in the first quarter after a 52-yard run by Donovonn Young to the PSU 11. The Lions' defense came up with a stop, and Taylor Zalewski missed a 26-yard field goal.

SECOND QUARTER

Penn State 21, Illinois 0: The Lions got things going on the ground with Zach Zwinak, who ran for 12, 9, 10 and 2 yards on four consecutive carries. Then on the next play, McGloin faked a handoff to Zwinak and hit tight end Matt Lehman down the seam for a 21-yard TD with 3:11 left in the half. Illinois safety Earnest Thomas had a late helmet-to-helmet hit on Lehman in the end zone and was flagged and ejected. Prior to that, PSU drove to the Illinois 24, but McGloin took a 19-yard sack, and Sam Ficken later missed a 47-yard field goal wide left with 8:47 left in the half. At the end of the half, linebacker Michael Mauti intercepted Nathan Scheelhaase on fourth-and-goal from the 4 and returned it 99 yards to the Illini 1 with one second left. Ficken had an 18-yard field goal blocked as time expired.

THIRD QUARTER

Penn State 21, Illinois 7: The Illini pinned PSU at its own 1 on a 57-yard punt by Justin DuVernois, and after a three-and-out got the ball back at the Lions' 42. Scheelhaase hit Josh Ferguson for 22 yards down the middle to the 22. Then on a gorgeous play, Scheelhaase threw backwards to Ferguson, and the running back tossed a 22-yard TD to a wide-open Spencer Harris with 10:22 left in the quarter.

Penn State 28, Illinois 7: The Lions went to their NASCAR no-huddle offense and easily marched 57 yards for a TD. Zwinak did much of the damage on the ground, and McGloin finished off the drive with a 1-yard sneak with 3:15 left in the quarter.

FOURTH QUARTER

Penn State 35, Illinois 7: Zwinak continued his excellent day and reached 100 yards when he plunged in from the 1 to cap a 50-yard drive with 14:03 remaining.

 
 
 

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