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Behind its defense, Illinois holds off Penn State

Sep 29, 2007 - 11:24 PM CHAMPAIGN, Illinois (Ticker) -- Thanks to its defense, Illinois is off to a 2-0 start in the Big Ten Conference.

The Fighting Illini forced four turnovers in the second half - including three interceptions - to hold off 19th-ranked Penn State, 27-20, on Saturday.

Illinois (4-1, 2-0 Big Ten), which defeated Indiana last week, has won its first two conference games for the first time since 1991.

"Two years ago, that was the low point," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "I still had the feeling all that first year that we just had to stay the course. We haven't turned it around, but we have made progress."

Juice Williams was 11-of-19 for 120 yards in the first half, helping the Illini grab a 21-17 halftime lead.

Freshman Arrelious Benn returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown and caught a pass for another score in the first half for Illinois.

But the Fighting Illini's offense was virtually non-existent after scoring 21 points in the first half. Williams was benched early in the fourth quarter after going 0-of-5 in the second half.

Still, the defense yielded only three points in the second half, despite six straight Penn State possessions in Illinois territory. Four of those drives ended with turnovers.

Penn State also continues to be plagued by poor red zone execution, settling for field goals on its two possessions inside the 20.

The Nittany Lions have not scored a touchdown on their last five trips in the red zone. They managed only three field goals in last week's 14-9 loss at Michigan.

"To be frank, I really don't know what our problem is," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said of the Nittany Lions' red zone woes. "Obviously, we were very effective down there today. We can't throw interceptions and turn the ball over when we are going to score."

Kevin Kelly's 20-yard pulled Penn State within 24-20 with 5:55 remaining in third quarter, but the Nittany Lions turned the ball over on their next four possessions.

"Penn State is a good team, and they're going to yards," Illinois defensive back Kevin Mitchell said. "We had a couple miscues, which hurt us. But we started communicating better and we shut them down."

With 1:11 left in the third quarter, Illinois' Brit Miller interfered with punt returner Derrick Williams, giving the Nittany Lions a first down at the Illini 27.

But linebacker Jeremy Leman preserved the lead with two huge defensive plays.

On first down, Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli hit receiver Andrew Quarless with a perfect pass inside the 5, but Leman stripped Quarless just before he crossed the goal line. Two plays later, Leman intercepted Morelli at the 3-yard line.

"It was my first one (interception) since Senior Night in high school," Leman said. "The one today felt like it was in the air forever. He (Morelli) lofted it up there."

Penn State reached Illinois' 25 on its next possession, only to have defensive back Vontae Davis pick off Morelli at the 18.

Eddie McGee replaced Williams on Illinois' next possession and ripped off a 52-yard gain, setting up Jason Reda's 33-yard with 6:33 remaining.

The Nittany Lions (3-2, 0-2), who moved the ball but could not finish drives, reached the Illinois 20 on its next possession.

Morelli appeared to pick up the first down on a desperate 4th-and-10 scramble with 2:12 remaining, but he fumbled after defensive back Justin Harrison jarred the ball loose and Illinois recovered.

Mitchell ended Penn State's last chance with yet another interception inside the 20 in the final minute.

"We didn't play too well in the first half," Leman added. "Defense is a funny thing. We just needed to come out with more energy. Defense is all about emotion."

Morelli completed 21-of-38 passes for 298 yards for the Nittany Lions, who finished with a 427-336 edge in total offense.






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    Penn State(21) vs. IllinoisSep 29 4:40 PM


  • NCAAF FINAL
    1ST 2ND 3RD 4TH TOTAL
    --- --- --- --- -----
    PENN ST (21) 10 7 3 0 20
    ILLINOIS 14 7 3 3 27 FINAL
    SCORING SUMMARY
    1ST QUARTER: PENN ST - FG, KEVIN KELLY 26 YD, 5:27. PENN
    ST 3-0
    ILLINOIS - TD, ARRELIOUS BENN 90 YD KICKOFF
    RETURN (JASON REDA KICK),
    5:40. ILLINOIS 7-3
    ILLINOIS - TD, RASHARD MENDENHALL 2 YD RUN
    (JASON REDA KICK), 12

    Sep 29 3:27 PM
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    Penn State(21) vs. IllinoisSep 29 3:25 PM
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    Penn State(21) vs. IllinoisSep 29 3:15 PM
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    Penn State(21) vs. IllinoisSep 29 3:11 PM


  • NCAAF
    FG ILLINOIS
    JASON REDA 33 YD
    PENN ST (21) 20
    ILLINOIS 27 7:00 LEFT, 4TH QTR

    Penn State(21) vs. IllinoisSep 29 3:04 PM


  • NCAAF END, 3RD QTR
    1ST 2ND 3RD 4TH TOTAL
    --- --- --- --- -----
    PENN ST (21) 10 7 3 20
    ILLINOIS 14 7 3 24 END, 3RD QTR
    SCORING SUMMARY
    1ST QUARTER: PENN ST - FG, KEVIN KELLY 26 YD, 5:27. PENN
    ST 3-0
    ILLINOIS - TD, ARRELIOUS BENN 90 YD KICKOFF
    RETURN (JASON REDA KICK),
    5:40. ILLINOIS 7-3
    ILLINOIS - TD, RASHARD MENDENHALL 2 YD RUN
    (JASO

    Sep 29 2:39 PM


  • NCAAF
    FG PENN ST
    KEVIN KELLY 20 YD
    PENN ST (21) 20
    ILLINOIS 24 6:09 LEFT, 3RD QTR

    Penn State(21) vs. IllinoisSep 29 2:20 PM


  • NCAAF
    FG ILLINOIS
    JASON REDA 47 YD
    PENN ST (21) 17
    ILLINOIS 24 12:38 LEFT, 3RD QTR

    Penn State(21) vs. IllinoisSep 29 2:04 PM


  • NCAAF HALFTIME
    1ST 2ND 3RD 4TH TOTAL
    --- --- --- --- -----
    PENN ST (21) 10 7 17
    ILLINOIS 14 7 21 HALFTIME
    SCORING SUMMARY
    1ST QUARTER: PENN ST - FG, KEVIN KELLY 26 YD, 5:27. PENN
    ST 3-0
    ILLINOIS - TD, ARRELIOUS BENN 90 YD KICKOFF
    RETURN (JASON REDA KICK),
    5:40. ILLINOIS 7-3
    ILLINOIS - TD, RASHARD MENDENHALL 2 YD RUN
    (JASON REDA K

    Sep 29 1:38 PM
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    Penn State(21) vs. IllinoisSep 29 1:38 PM


  • NCAAF
    TD PENN ST
    AUSTIN SCOTT 7 YD RUN
    (KEVIN KELLY KICK)
    PENN ST (21) 17
    ILLINOIS 21 8:54 LEFT, 2ND QTR

    Penn State(21) vs. IllinoisSep 29 1:10 PM


  • NCAAF
    TD ILLINOIS
    ARRELIOUS BENN 29 YD PASS FROM JUICE WILLIAMS
    (JASON REDA KICK)
    PENN ST (21) 10
    ILLINOIS 21 10:34 LEFT, 2ND QTR

    Penn State(21) vs. IllinoisSep 29 1:03 PM


  • NCAAF END, 1ST QTR
    1ST 2ND 3RD 4TH TOTAL
    --- --- --- --- -----
    PENN ST (21) 10 10
    ILLINOIS 14 14 END, 1ST QTR
    SCORING SUMMARY
    1ST QUARTER: PENN ST - FG, KEVIN KELLY 26 YD, 5:27. PENN
    ST 3-0
    ILLINOIS - TD, ARRELIOUS BENN 90 YD KICKOFF
    RETURN (JASON REDA KICK),
    5:40. ILLINOIS 7-3
    ILLINOIS - TD, RASHARD MENDENHALL 2 YD RUN
    (JASO

    Sep 29 12:45 PM


  • NCAAF
    TD PENN ST
    DERRICK WILLIAMS 24 YD PASS FROM ANTHONY MORELLI
    (KEVIN KELLY KICK)
    PENN ST (21) 10
    ILLINOIS 14 0:42 LEFT, 1ST QTR

    Penn State(21) vs. IllinoisSep 29 12:43 PM


  • NCAAF
    TD ILLINOIS
    RASHARD MENDENHALL 2 YD RUN
    (JASON REDA KICK)
    PENN ST (21) 3
    ILLINOIS 14 2:03 LEFT, 1ST QTR

    Penn State(21) vs. IllinoisSep 29 12:36 PM


  • NCAAF
    TD ILLINOIS
    ARRELIOUS BENN 90 YD KICKOFF RETURN
    (JASON REDA KICK)
    PENN ST (21) 3
    ILLINOIS 7 9:20 LEFT, 1ST QTR

    Penn State(21) vs. IllinoisSep 29 12:20 PM


  • NCAAF
    FG PENN ST
    KEVIN KELLY 26 YD
    PENN ST (21) 3
    ILLINOIS 0 9:33 LEFT, 1ST QTR

    Penn State(21) vs. IllinoisSep 29 12:16 PM
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    Penn State(21) vs. IllinoisSep 29 10:38 AM
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    Penn State(21) vs. IllinoisSep 28 9:18 AM