Giger’s 5 keys: Defense, Hackenberg look to bounce back vs. Illinois

Anyone thinking Bill O’Brien would be all business this week following a rough loss at Ohio State was proven wrong on Halloween Thursday.

Video made the rounds Friday afternoon of O’Brien showing his players the sense of humor we’ve heard so much about.

“Coach Obrien came out during practice in a Nittany Lion costume yesterday haha,” offensive lineman Garry Gilliam tweeted Friday.

Video and pictures of O’Brien’s Halloween get-up are linked on the Mirror website.

Now, for Penn State’s five keys against an Illinois team that’s lost 17 straight Big Ten games and got crushed on homecoming last week by Michigan State, 42-3.

No. 1: Don’t do too much

The Lions will make some changes on defense this week after getting destroyed by the Buckeyes, but they need to be careful not to change so many things that the players get even more confused.

The defensive players have been working on their schemes since training camp, a full three months, and trying to make wholesale changes this late in the season could be troublesome.

The most important thing to remember is that this is Illinois, not Ohio State, so the defense doesn’t exactly have to be great for the Lions to win. That’s as long as the …

SUBHD: No. 2: Offense improves

No matter how bad the defense was last week, Penn State’s offense deserves its share of blame for not keeping pace with the Buckeyes and putting the defense in a big hole.

Christian Hackenberg looks like a future star at times. But his completion percentage has dropped below 58 percent (57.8), he’s thrown eight interceptions to go along with his 12 TDs, and perhaps most importantly, he’s only completing 40 percent in the red zone.

Yes, he’s a freshman, but there’s just no denying that Hackenberg needs to be more consistent. We’ll see today if he has any issues from the minor shoulder injury he suffered last week.

Bill Belton has done a nice job in the running game, and Allen Robinson should put up his usual good numbers. The tight ends need to be more involved than they were last week when they had no catches.

SUBHD: No. 3: Start fast

Penn State fans have always been weary of noon kickoffs, and for good reason since the team typically is sluggish.

This is a bad Illinois team, and the Lions can bury them emotionally with a quick start. Conversely, if PSU lets the Illini hang around and gain confidence, that’s the kind of thing that helps bad teams pull off upsets.

SUBHD: No. 4: Do what they do

Time and again over the past two years the PSU players have shown tremendous resiliency in the wake of incredible adversity.

Look for them to do that again today.

While that won’t erase last week’s horror show of a loss, it will help the Lions start to get on a roll looking to end the season strong.

SUBHD: No. 5: Player to watch

It has to be on the defensive side for PSU, so more specifically, the Lions’ secondary needs to have a good bounce-back day after letting Ohio State’s receivers run wide open last week.

The confusion in the secondary isn’t limited to just the game against the Buckeyes. It’s popped up from time to time all season, along with poor tackling in general.

Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase completes 65 percent for 236 yards per game, so if you give him time and open receivers, he can make the Lions pay.

We’ll see what kind of adjustments the Lions have made all over the defense, but they might be most noticeable in the secondary.

Prediction: Penn State 35, Illinois 13

Follow Giger’s live updates throughout today’s game on Twitter @Cory Giger.