The Penn State Nittany Lions will battle a letdown on several fronts in the wake of their loss to Michigan, a game which could have placed them safely over one of the last sizeable hurdles on their schedule. Besides the defeat, Penn State must recover from losing freshman all-purpose threat Derrick Williams for the remainder of the season. He broke his left arm on a fourth-quarter kickoff return. Williams' likely replacement, fellow freshman Justin King, might not be available given his increased involvement at cornerback. King has been playing plenty of nickel back since senior Paul Cronin was dismissed from the team for disciplinary reasons earlier this month. That leaves sophomore Terrell Golden to take up the slack at wideout. He had three catches for 74 yards at Michigan. Williams had a season-high six catches for 59 yards at Michigan. He finishes with 22 catches for 289 yards and a TD in seven starts. He also rushed 22 times for 105 yards and three scores and returned 13 kickoffs for a 21.1-yard average.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, but Illinois had no way of knowing when it designated this Saturday as Homecoming that Penn State would be both revitalized and very angry. The Nittany Lions come to Memorial Stadium tied for the Big Ten lead at 3-1 and upset about a last-play loss at Michigan that knocked them off the inside lane to the BCS. Illinois was off last week and head coach Ron Zook thinks the time away was good for his team. "All you got to do is go back and look at teams that have played coming off open dates," Zook said. "Look at how they play, look at the image they play with. They are refreshed. You hate to get a team that is coming off an open date. They were faster, and they are a completely different team." No wonder Zook hopes his team is completely different. The Illini haven't been competitive in a single conference game, getting outscored by an average score of 43-10.
Head coach Terry Hoeppner's push to get his seniors into a bowl game for the first time in their careers has hit a snag from the Big Ten schedule-maker. IU is in the midst of six straight games to finish the season against opponents who made bowl appearances in 2004. That lineup gets no easier after a 38-24 loss to Iowa, given Ohio State's arrival in Bloomington for a Saturday kickoff. "This becomes a test of manhood now and finding out who the tough guys are," Hoeppner said. OSU fans took over Memorial Stadium on the Buckeyes' visit two years ago and should have a sizeable contingent again this week. IU cut its ticket distribution to Ohio State from 25,000 to 15,000, but there's no predicting how many OSU fans bought tickets directly from Indiana. Quarterback Blake Powers and wide receiver James Hardy get most of the headlines for IU's turnaround, but the Hoosiers' defense shouldn't be overlooked. It was last in the league in points allowed and total yardage in 2004. This season, it's fourth overall (367 yards per game) and fifth in scoring defense (25.0 points per game).