Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Illinois Fighting Illini – Point Spread

Penn State Nittany Lions (3-1 SU, 0-4 ATS) vs. Illinois Fighting Illini (1-2 SU, 0-2 ATS), 3:30 p.m. EST, Saturday, October 3, 2009, Memorial Stadium, Champaign, Ill. TV: ABC
by Ryno of

Point Spread: Penn State -6/Illinois +6
Over/Under: 46

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College football bettors hate Penn State right now as much as the Nittany Lions hate Iowa. Penn State is yet to cover a spread in its first four games, as the Nittany Lions have played very good defense but has struggled to score a ton of points. After starting 3-0 with wins over weak opponents Akron, Syracuse and Temple, the Nittany Lions lost 21-10 to Iowa, the same team that ended Penn State’s undefeated season and national title hopes last year. The Hawkeyes have now defeated Joe Paterno’s boys seven of the last eight times they’ve met. Now, Penn State will try to bounce back from a disappointing loss with its first road game of the season, as the Nittany Lions to travel to Champaign to face the Illinois Fighting Illini.

This game really begs the question of whether to stick with the trends or go with the law of averages. Not only are the Nittany Lions 0-4 ATS, but they also went under in all four of their games. Illinois is exactly the same, as it is 0-2 ATS and has gone under in both of its games. Neither team can cover a spread. The reason is that neither offense has performed up to its expectations.

Illinois is 4-1 ATS against Penn State in the two teams’ last five meetings. Last season, Penn State won the game, 38-24. In that game, PSU quarterback Darryl Clark was very effective, going 14-for-20 for 181 passing yards and two touchdowns. Clark’s top two targets were Derrick Williams and Deon Butler, two receivers who are now in the NFL. Without those two receivers, Clark hasn’t passed as well this season.

Evan Royster was the primary reason that Penn State was able to move the ball in the win over Illinois last season. The running back, who will be in the backfield again on Saturday, ran for 139 yards on 19 carries.

On the other side, Juice Williams kept Illinois relatively in the game. The dual-threat quarterback threw for 183 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 64 more yards. Williams will again be the key if Illinois is going to pull off the upset.

In Illinois’s 30-0 loss to Ohio State on Saturday, it was held to just 170 total yards of offense. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes rushed for 237 yards on 45 carries. Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor only attempted 13 passes and completed eight of them for 82 yards, but he didn’t have to do too much because his team was running so well.

It is probable that Royster will have similar success on Saturday. After the Buckeyes ran for 237 yards on Illinois, and Royster had 139 yards in last year’s meeting, chances are that he will have a dominant outing once again and, just like Pryor for Ohio State, Clark won’t have to do too much for PSU to win.

Penn State’s defense has been very good thus far. After allowing a combined 20 points against its first three opponents, PSU gave up 21 points to Iowa. However, seven of those points came on a blocked punt for a touchdown. The Nittany Lions didn’t allow an offensive touchdown until midway through the fourth quarter after Iowa had already taken the lead on the blocked punt.

Defense hasn’t been the problem for the Nittany Lions. It’s the offense that has been underwhelming. Iowa contained their rushing attack, allowing just 111 yards on 32 carries. The Hawkeyes forced Clark to beat them, something that rarely happens when PSU’s rushing attack isn’t working. Clark was just 12-for-32 through the air, including three interceptions. If Clark has to throw the ball 30 times, Illinois has a chance to win this game. Luckily for Penn State, Illinois’s run defense was exploited on Saturday when Ohio State ran all over the Fighting Illini.

Williams has hip injury, but he is still probable to play on Saturday. On the other side, Penn State has some injury problems at linebacker, but that shouldn’t affect the Nittany Lions much because of their depth at that position.

Penn State is 7-1 in the last five seasons coming off a loss, but the only loss was a 27-20 loss at Illinois on September 29, 2007 after a loss at Michigan. All seven of the wins were by at least seven points. Two of those seven bounce-back wins came against Illinois, including a 63-10 thrashing of the Fighting Illini in Champaign on October 22, 2005.

Ryno’s Pick: Royster is going to run all over the Fighting Illini in this one. His rushing total may rival Illinois’s total yards of offense. The Nittany Lions have been dominant on defense this season and all they have to do is focus on Williams in this one. Penn State should be able to control the clock on offense, and Illinois won’t be able to score many points. The fact that Penn State hasn’t covered in its four games and is coming off a loss has enabled the line to bet set fairly low. Illinois got blown out by Ohio State and Missouri, so there’s not much of a chance of coming close to the Nittany Lions. Take Penn State -6.