GAME 8: ILLINOIS (4-3, 1-2) at Penn State (6-2, 3-1)
WhenSaturday, Oct. 31, 2015 | Noon ET/11 am CT
WhereBeaver Stadium (106,572) | University Park, Pa. | Weather
Gameday InfoGameday Central | Penn State Gameday
TelevisionESPN2 | WatchESPN (Beth Mowins, Anthony Becht & Paul Carcaterra)
RadioFighting Illini Sports Network | Listen | Sirius 136 / XM 196
Illinois LinksGame Notes | Notes PDF | Record Book | Stats
PSU LinksGame Notes | Notes PDF | Yearbook | Stats
Big Ten LinksComplete B1G Notes | Media Guide | Conference Stats
Press Conf.Video | Quotes
Social Media@IlliniFootball | #Illini | @IlliniFootball | Facebook | YouTube
FOR OPENERS• Kicking Off: The Fighting Illini (4-3 overall, 1-2 B1G West) are looking to end a two-game skid as they prepare to hit the road to face Penn State (6-2 overall, 3-1 B1G East) on Saturday at Beaver Stadium in State College. (Noon ET/11 a.m. CT, ESPN2).
• D-Fence: The Fighting Illini defense over the first six games has shown vast improvement since last season.
» The Illini rank in the top-30 nationally in six different categories, including blocked kicks (4), third down defense (6), TFLs (14), first downs allowed (18), passing efficiency defense (25) and interceptions (26).
» Through seven games in 2014, the Illini were allowing 486.6 ypg and 35.9 ppg. This season, they're allowing 344.9 ypg and 20.3 ppg through seven games.
» The Illini rank sixth in the nation in third down conversion defense, allowing just 30 first downs in 110 third down attempts this season (.273).
» The Illini have forced 35 three-and-out drives this season (5.0 per game), 18th-most in FBS. Illinois forced 44 three-and-out drives in all of 2014 (3.4 per game).
• OL Pride: The Fighting Illini offensive line, anchored by LT Austin Schmidt, LG Chris Boles, C Joe Spencer, RG Ted Karras and RT Christian DiLauro, has allowed just eight sacks in seven games this season. After a sack-free game against the Badgers, the Illini are allowing just 1.14 sacks per game which ranks 15th nationally and leads the Big Ten.
• Senior WR Geronimo Allison leads the B1G in receptions per game (6.9) and is one of two B1G players averaging over 100 yards per game (100.0). With 48 catches for 700 yards this season, Allison has already surpassed his production from the entire 2014 season (41-598). A midseason addition to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List, Allison has been better in B1G play, averaging 8.0 catches and 112.7 yards per game.
• Senior DB Clayton Fejedelem had a monster game against Wisconsin, making a career-high 19 tackles and picking off a Badger pass in the end zone. The 19 tackles are tied for the most by a B1G player and are the sixth-most by an FBS player in a game this season. It's also the most by an Illini since J Leman had 20 vs. Missouri on September 1, 2007. For the season, the former walk-on leads the team, is second in the Big Ten and 11th in FBS in tackles (10.6 tpg).
• Junior LEO Dawuane Smoot is having a big year, racking up 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks through seven games. He ranks 11th in FBS in TFLs per game (1.6) and 34th in sacks per game (.71).
• Senior DB V'Angelo Bentley is the Illinois career leader in kick return yardage (1,620). He surpassed Pierre Thomas' record of 1,495 yards against MTSU on Sept. 26. The Hornung Award candidate is the first Illinois player in school history to record kick, punt, interception and fumble returns for TD in his career.
• Senior LB Mason Monheim has 347 career tackles, third-most among active FBS players. The Butkus and Lombardi Award candidate has forced seven career fumbles, tied for fourth most in Illinois history and sixth-most among active FBS players.
• Cardiac Illini: The last two Fighting Illini victories were each decided in the final 10 seconds of regulation by a total of three points. Against Nebraska on Oct. 3, QB Wes Luntfound WR Geronimo Allison for a 1-yard TD with 10 seconds left for a 14-13 Illini victory. That followed up a 27-25 win over Middle Tennessee on Sept. 26 after the Blue Raiders missed a 43-yard field goal with four seconds on the clock.
• Captain Comeback: Illinois has seven fourth-quarter comeback wins in the last two seasons (five in 2014 and two so far in 2015). QB Wes Lunt has orchestrated five of those seven fourth-quarter comebacks, including both this season (vs. Middle Tennessee and vs. Nebraska).
• Block Party: Illinois is tied for fourth in FBS with three blocked kicks this season. The Fighting Illini have blocked two punts, returning both for touchdowns, and one field goal on the season.
• On the Upswing: Illinois has won three of its last five and four of its last eight B1G games dating back to last season. In the 25 Big Ten games prior to the last eight, the Fighting Illini were 1-24.
ILLINOIS-PENN STATE SERIES• Penn State leads the all-time series against Illinois, 17-5, including an 8-1 mark at University Park.
• Illinois has won three of the last eight meetings (2007, 2010 and 2014), which is an improvement compared to the rest of the all-time series. Prior to 2007, PSU had won 11 of 13 meetings, including seven in a row from 1972-2000.
• The Illini beat Penn State, 16-14, last season in the first of five straight home wins and three straight Big Ten victories. David Reisner's 36-yard field goal with eight seconds left secured the victory.
• Illinois is looking to beat Penn State in back-to-back meetings for the first time in program history. Previous wins over Penn State have come in 1960, 2001, 2007, 2010 and 2014.
• Illinois lost to Penn State, 24-17 [1OT] in its last visit to University Park 11/2/2013. It was the last time Illinois played an overtime game.
• In 2011, the Illini dropped a heartbreaking 10-7 game in the snow in Happy Valley when Derek Dimke's last-second field goal attempt bounced off the right upright with snowballs sailing onto the field from the stands. That was the final game for longtime PSU head coach Joe Paterno and also featured the first measurable snowfall at an October Penn State home game.
• Illinois' lone victory at Penn State came by a 33-13 score in 2010.
• Junior linebacker T.J. Neal Jr. (McKeeseport, Pa.), senior defensive end Jihad Ward(Philadelphia, Pa.) and junior WR Tyrin Stone-Davis (Philadelphia, Pa.) are Illinois' only Pennsylvania natives on the roster. But head coach Bill Cubit also is a Pennsylvania guy, hailing from Sharon Hill, Pa.
Player Highlights Against the Nittany Lions• CB V'Angelo Bentley blocked a Penn State field goal just before halftime of the 2012 game.
• RB Josh Ferguson threw his first career TD pass in the 2012 game against the Lions, a 22-yard strike to Spencer Harris. It still is the last TD pass by a non-QB for the Illini. In 2013, Ferguson recorded 144 all-purpose yards and two TDs at PSU.
• LB Mason Monheim has 24 tackles and two forced fumbles in three games against PSU.
• PK David Reisner hit three field goals in the 2014 win over PSU, including a 36-yarder with eight seconds left for the game-winning points.
• Last 100-yard rusher vs. Penn State: Jason Ford, 100, 10/29/2011
• Last 300-yard passer vs. Penn State: Nathan Scheelhaase, 321, 11/2/2013
• Last 100-yard receiver vs. Penn State: Ryan Lankford, 104, 9/29/2012
NO FLY ZONEThe improvement of the Illini defense in 2015, under the direction of co-defensive coordinators Tim Banks and Mike Phair, has been remarkable. The Illini have jumped over 70 spots in national rankings from last season in several categories and currently are ranked in the top-30 nationally in blocked kicks, third down defense, TFLs, first downs allowed, pass efficiency defense and interceptions.
ILLINOIS' DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT IN 2015
Category2014 (Nat'l Rk)2015 (Nat'l Rk)
Blocked Kicks (total)1 (70)3 (4)
Third Down Conversion %.423 (88).273 (6)
Tackles for Loss (per game)6.3 (49)8.0 (11)
First Downs Allowed (per game)22.5 (101)17.1 (18)
Pass Efficiency Defense (rating)136.0 (95)109.71 (25)
Interceptions (total)7 (105)9 (26)
Scoring Defense (ppg)34.0 (107)20.3 (31)
Total Defense (ypg)456.4 (109)344.9 (33)
Rushing Defense (ypg)239.2 (115)149.4 (50)FOURTH-QUARTER MAGIC• The Illini mounted their second fourth-quarter comeback victory of the season against Nebraska on Oct. 3. Illinois trailed 13-0 entering the final quarter and was down 13-7 with less than a minute remaining before QB Wes Lunt orchestrated a 6-play, 72-yard drive culminating in Geronimo Allison's 1-yard touchdown catch with 10 seconds left for a 14-13 Illini victory.
• Against Middle Tennessee State on Sept. 26, the Fighting Illini trailed 25-24 with less than four minutes on the clock before Lunt engineered an 8-play, 41-yard drive ending in a 51-yard game-winning field goal by Taylor Zalewski with 2:09 left.
• In 2014, Illinois mounted five fourth-quarter comebacks, coming back to beat Penn State, Minnesota, Texas State, Western Kentucky and Youngstown State after training at some point during the fourth quarter.
• Illinois has had 11 comeback wins since 2001 when trailing after three quarters. Five of those 11 have come since the start of the 2014 season.
MAKING THE GRADEThe Illini have excelled in the classroom over the last three seasons.
• A total of 38 football student-athletes earned degrees in 2014-15, including 13 that are on the 2015 roster pursuing second degrees or master's degrees.
• Since 2012, the number of football graduates have gone from 15 (2012), to 16 (2013) to 21 (2014) to 38 (2015).
• Illinois has broken its school record for Academic All-Big Ten selections in each of the last three seasons in Champaign. Prior to 2012, the school record was 12 (2000 & 2009). Since then, the Illini have had 18 (2012), 21 (2013) and now 29 in 2014.
• For four consecutive semesters, at least 40 football student-athletes have posted at least a 3.0 grade-point-average, including a high of 60 in Spring 2015. In the same time frame, Illinois' team GPA also has risen steadily from 2.71 in fall 2012 to 2.98 in spring 2015.
GERONIMOOOOOOOO!• Senior WR Geronimo Allison has 48 receptions for 700 yards this season, leading the Big Ten in receptions per game (6.9) and ranking in the top-20 nationally in receptions and receiving yards per game (100.0).
• Allison has been hot as of late, with 34 reception for 466 yards and two touchdowns in the last four games. He has five career 100-yard games, most recently an 8-catch, 148-yard performance at Iowa on Oct. 10, and narrowly missed his sixth last week against Wisconsin (8 catches, 99 yards).
• Allison caught the game-winning TD against Nebraska, a 1-yard strike from Wes Lunt with 10 second left in the game to put the Illini up 14-13. He finished with eight receptions for 91 yards against the Huskers.
• Allison has hauled in 12 receptions of 20+ yards, which is tied for the 12th-most in the nation and exceeds his 2014 season total of nine. His 33 receptions of 10+ yards is tied for 9th-most in FBS.
• In his second season with the Illini after transferring from Iowa Western CC in 2014, Allison went over 1,000 career receiving yards Oct. 3 vs. Nebraska. He now has 1,298 yards on 89 career receptions at UI.
• The Tampa, Florida, native and Iowa Western Community College transfer has had overwhelming success on first down, recording 671 of his 1,298 total yards (51.7 percent) and six touchdowns, including the Oct. 3 game-winner against Nebraska, on that down. Twenty-three of his 39 first-down catches have resulted in first downs and 10 of them went for 25-plus yards.
HE'S LUNT, HE'S LUNT, HE'S LUNT, HE'S IN MY HEAD• Junior QB Wes Lunt leads the Big Ten in completions per game (22.6) and ranks fourth in the conference in passing yards per game (243.1) and sixth passing touchdowns (9).
• Lunt has thrown 23 touchdowns against just six interceptions in his UI career.
• With just three interceptions in 276 pass attempts this season, Lunt is one of just seven players in the nation with over 250 attempts and three or less INTs this season.
• Lunt had a streak of 190 straight pass attempts without an interception snapped in the fourth quarter against Wisconsin. It was the third-longest active streak in the nation at the time.
• Against Iowa on Oct. 10, Lunt posted his fourth career 300-yard game, completing 25-of-42 passes for 317 yards against the Hawkeyes. He connected on 11-straight passes at one point in the game and went 19-for-27 for 228 yards in the second half alone.
• Lunt's career efficiency rating of 128.8 is on the heels of Tony Eason's Illinois school record of 133.8 (1981-'82).
• Lunt has led game-winning drives in the final minute of two games this season (Middle Tennesee and Nebraska) and has led five fourth-quarter comeback wins in his first season and a half with the Illini.