Illini Drop Big Ten Opener to Penn State
Sept. 29, 2012
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - After a stinging blowout loss to Louisiana Tech, Tim Beckman spent the week talking about the fresh start the Illini's Big Ten opener could provide.
The goal, he said, was to make the Big Ten title game, and a win over Penn State would have the Illini on the right track.
After Saturday ended in another blowout, a 35-7 loss to the Nittany Lions (3-2), some players sounded as if the Illini (2-3) are headed anywhere but the right direction.
"We just need to come together as a senior staff and just redevelop this team," defensive tackle Glenn Foster said.
Disappointment, Beckman added, doesn't fully explain how the team felt Saturday afternoon.
"Disappointed is the least word, I guess you could say," Beckman said. "I know our football team is hurting and, as we spoke to them in the locker room, it's time to step up and see what this football team is all about and move forward."
Illinois' biggest headache Saturday was linebacker Michael Mauti. When Illinois coaches were criticized for setting up shop near Penn State's campus last summer to see if any Nittany Lions were interested in transferring after NCAA sanctions were imposed, Mauti was their most vocal critic.
After his six tackles and two game-changing interceptions Saturday, he said he hadn't yet put those bad feelings behind him.
"It was sweet, that's what it was," Mauti said. "We haven't forgotten about what happened in the summer. Yeah, to be honest with you we had that in the back of our minds and that kept us going. I mean, it's all about opening up the conference strong and keeping things going."
Quarterback Matt McGloin was a problem for the Illini, too. He threw for 211 yards and a touchdown and ran for two more scores. Running back Zach Zwinak had 101 yards and two touchdowns.
Illinois had three turnovers in all, and eight costly penalties.
"We can't turn the football over and we've got to move the football better," Beckman said. "And we've got to tackle and do the things we feel are necessary for us to be successful, and we're just not getting those done the last two weeks."
Mauti's second interception came near midfield late in the third quarter as Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase tried to rally the Illini. Mauti's pick instead set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Zwinak with 14:03 left in the game that sealed the win.
The Nittany Lions must still be wondering how they didn't turn the senior linebacker's first interception into points.
With just seconds left in the half. Illinois was desperately trying to put its first points on the scoreboard, and was in position to do it with a fourth-and-goal from the Penn State 7.
Mauti followed his blockers, running through traffic deep into Illini territory. But he was also running out of gas with Illinois' Miles Osei on his tail.
Osei, the officials ruled after reviewing the play, got just enough of Mauti to force one of his knees to the turf before the linebacker fell across the goal line. But the review also showed one second left on the clock.
Sam Ficken lined up for a chip-shot field goal that Illinois' V'Angelo Bentley blocked, keeping the game at 21-0 at the half.
"Ninety-nine yards without a touchdown -- that one's gonna hurt," Mauti said. "That's gonna haunt my dreams."
Illinois finally found the scoreboard early in the third quarter.
Scheelhaase finished with 270 passing yards, going 28 of 46. Lankford had seven catches for a game-high 104 yards.
He said Illinois has to put Saturday's loss behind it.
"We didn't play the way we wanted to, but there's still a lot of football left and the damage that's been done isn't season-ending at all," Scheelhaase said.