Big Ten Opener

During a non-conference schedule in which its toughest game was a 31-point victory, Penn State's biggest on-field issue was determining whether the injured Joe Paterno would coach from the sidelines or the press box.

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This week, the Nittany Lions have to be much more concerned with the whereabouts of Juice Williams than those of their legendary coach.

After rolling through non-conference play, No. 12 Penn State faces a much stiffer challenge Saturday night as it opens Big Ten play at home against Williams and 22nd-ranked Illinois.

Oddsmakers from have made Penn St -14 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 65% of bets for this game have been placed on Penn St –14 (View College Football bet percentages).

The Nittany Lions (4-0) haven't been challenged in their first four games, compiling the nation's top scoring differential at 42.8 points. They have the country's sixth-ranked offense (538.5 yards per game) and seventh-ranked defense (222.3 ypg), and have scored more points in four contests than any team in the 122-year history of the program.

Penn State fumbled five times - losing one - while Daryll Clark threw his first interception Saturday against Temple, but the Lions still put up 546 yards of offense in a 45-3 win.

"We want to play and move on and start playing in the Big Ten," co-offensive coordinator Jay Paterno said. "Everyone can talk about how well we are doing and what we are doing on the field, but we have to go play and compete."

Penn State is relatively healthy, but its one injury of note is to Joe Paterno, who's been bothered by a sore right leg since the 81-year-old coach attempted an onside kick at practice several weeks earlier. He spent time on the sidelines and in the press box against Temple, but says he's hopeful he'll be back downstairs against Illinois.

"We know he's a fighter,'' said the Lions' Deon Butler, who has 229 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns. "If we get tired or banged up, we just look to him, what he's going through and push harder to go through it.''

The Nittany Lions' other personnel issue has been the absence of starting defensive linemen Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma, who have missed the past three games after each was charged with one misdemeanor count of possession of a small amount of marijuana.

The two returned to practice earlier this week, though Paterno remained mum on whether they'd suit up Saturday.

Penn State could use both - particularly Evans, who had 12 1/2 sacks last season - to chase Williams around. Illinois' junior quarterback has thrown for 450 yards in a game this season and run for 174 yards in another, confirming his status as one of the top dual-threat players in the country.

Williams threw five touchdown passes as the Illini (2-1) lost their opener to Missouri in St. Louis on Aug. 30, but he's only thrown two in their two wins. He was 13-for-25 for 147 yards with a TD and an interception in Illinois' last game, a 20-17 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 13.

"My performance wasn't good enough,'' Williams said. "A lot of times it's a big play that sparks us, but we didn't have that play today.''

Williams hasn't made many big plays in two games against Penn State. He went 13-for-33 with two interceptions in a 26-12 loss at State College in 2006, and was 11-for-24 with a touchdown and two interceptions Sept. 29 in Champaign.

Illinois won that game 27-20, however, forcing four Nittany Lions turnovers and getting a big game from Arrelious Benn. The wideout had six catches for 84 yards and a touchdown, and also took a kick return back 90 yards for a score.

Benn, a sophomore, has 15 catches for 150 yards and has rushed for two touchdowns this season.

Unlike last season, Illinois will face a Nittany Lions team with a dual threat under center. Clark offers Penn State a run-pass option that Anthony Morelli - who threw three interceptions and was sacked four times in last year's loss to the Illini - never did.

Clark, who has thrown seven touchdowns and run for two this season, can also rely on a pair of elusive tailbacks. Evan Royster (8.1 yards per carry) and Stephfon Green (7.3) rank second and third in the Big Ten in that category and have combined for 11 touchdowns.

Penn State has won all five meetings with Illinois at Beaver Stadium. The Lions have won 23 of their last 25 games at home.

Key Injuries

[WR] Brian Gamble has left the team. - Undisclosed - 09/08/08
[WR] Jeff Cumberland upgraded to probable. - Foot - 09/17/08
[OL] Randall Hunt missed last game, probable. - Knee - 09/17/08
[DT] D'Angelo McCray has decided to transfer. - Academics - 08/01/08
[DT] Sirod Williams expected to miss the entire season - ACL - 08/13/08
[DB] Miami Thomas is out for the season. - ACL - 09/10/08
[S] Donsay Hardeman is expected to miss. Expected return Sept. 27 vs Penn

[DL] Mike Lucian upgraded to probable - Ankle - 09/17/08
[OL] Ako Poti missed last game ? - Knee - 09/18/08
[DL] Maurice Evans missed last game doubtful - Suspension - 09/13/08
[DT] Phillip Taylor dismissed from team. - Dismissed - 08/01/08
[DT] Chris Baker dismissed from team. - Dismissed - 08/01/08
[DT] Devon Still is out for the season. - Ankle - 09/10/08
[LB] Jerome Hayes out for the season - ACL - 09/07/08
[DL] Abe Koroma missed last game doubtful - Suspension - 09/13/08
[S] Nick Sukay is expected to miss entire season - Foot - 09/01/08

Betting Trends For This Game
here are no Top Trends with records of significance that apply to this game.
Head-to-Head Series History
ILLINOIS is 2-0 against the spread versus PENN ST over the last 3 seasons
PENN ST is 1-1 straight up against ILLINOIS over the last 3 seasons
1 of 2 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons

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