|Score by Quarters
||ILL - Jason Reda 41-yard field goal
||PSU - Ethan Kilmer 35-yard pass from Robinson (Kelly
||PSU - Deon Butler 31-yard pass from Robinson (Kelly
||PSU - Deon Butler 19-yard pass from Robinson (Kelly
||PSU - Patrick Hall 3-yard pass from Robinson (Kelly
||PSU - Dan Connor 18-yard fumble recovery (Kelly kick)
||PSU - Michael Robinson 4-yard run (Kelly kick)
||PSU - Michael Robinson 31-yard run (Kelly kick)
||PSU - Rodney Kinlaw 1-yard run (Kelly kick)
||PSU - Nolan McCready 76-yard interception return (Kelly kick)
||ILL - Rashard Mendenhall 2-yard pass from Pazan (Reda kick)
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - By the time Penn State's best half ever had concluded
last night, the gaps in Memorial Stadium's orange-clad student section
were nearly as large as the holes in Illinois' defense.
"Let's go drink!" chanted the remaining students, their wet
wishes fueled by the home team's worse-than-woeful homecoming performance.
Michael Robinson threw for four touchdowns and ran for two more in less
than two quarters of seemingly effortless football as Penn State built a record-setting
56-3 halftime lead and embarrassed rested Illinois, 63-10.
"You never come into a game thinking it's going to be easy," defensive
end Tamba Hali said. "But everything really went our way in this one."
Bouncing back from an agonizing last-second loss to Michigan, the 12th-ranked
Nittany Lions raised their record to 7-1 and remained tied with Wisconsin for
first place in the Big Ten at 4-1.
"We wanted to come back from last week," Robinson said. "We
were really excited going into this game. Joe [coach Joe Paterno] had to tell
us to calm down a few times."
With only home games against Wisconsin and Purdue and a season-closing
game at erratic Michigan State remaining, it's now possible to envision a once-unthinkable
10-1 record and a major bowl for the Lions, who were 7-16 over the last two seasons.
Illinois fell to 2-5 overall and 0-4 in the conference. In losing its
last five, the defenseless Illini, who surrendered a mind-numbing 378 yards in
the first half, have been outscored by 230-64.
"It's depressing and embarrassing to get beat like that," said
Steve Weatherford, Illinois' busy punter.
All those who had predicted a Nittany Lions letdown against the Ilini
were themselves let down.
"I was concerned [about a letdown], but not like you guys," Paterno
- who now has 350 career victories, a figure exceeded only by Florida State's
Bobby Bowden - told reporters afterward. "I mean, we lose one game and everybody
was going to jump off cliffs."
With Robinson looking more relaxed and confident than at any other time
in his four star-crossed seasons, Penn State marched relentlessly up and down
the field in putting on a first-half clinic, scoring 56 unanswered points.
"They didn't go to a traditional coverage after they blitzed," Robinson
said, "and our guys were really able to recognize that and get open."
Six of the Lions' nine touchdowns - all but one in the first half - were
Robinson's doing. The senior threw two scoring passes to Deon Butler, whose speedy
presence has become even more significant now that fellow freshman Derrick Williams
is lost for the season. Ethan Kilmer and Patrick Hall also caught TD passes from
"I didn't really put any extra pressure on myself because Derrick
wasn't there," said Butler, who now has six TD catches. "We've got
so many good receivers, guys who can get open, that there's
no need to do that."
Penn State's three other TDs came on an 18-yard fumble return
Haven's Dan Connor; a 1-yard run by third-string tailback Rodney Kinlaw with
26 seconds left in the hard-to-believe first half; and a 76-yard
interception return by defensive back Nolan McCready late in the third
quarter for the Lions' only second-half points.
Its 63 points were tied for the most ever for Penn State against a Big
Ten opponent. The Lions also got 63 against Ohio State in 1994.
Paterno began to empty his bench late in the first half. He replaced Robinson
with little-used sophomore Anthony Morelli. When Morelli threw a couple of passes
late in the half, Paterno was furious.
"I was a little angry with my offensive coaches when we threw the
ball there," he said. "We didn't need to do that."
Illinois scored the game's first (on a 41-yard field goal by Jason Reda)
and last (on a 3-yard TD catch by Rashard Mendenhall) points. In between, the
game was no contest.
"We had talked, talked, talked all week about not letting down, not
coming in here thinking we were going to be given something," Paterno said.
Illinois, which enjoyed a bye last week, opened the game just as you'd
expect - full of life and new wrinkles. On its first march downfield, it used
a stacked set of three receivers and several four-receiver sets. On at least
one occasion, it didn't use a huddle. But the effort yielded only Reda's field
"They played faster than we expected," Connor said. "But
after they got the field goal, we said, 'OK, they got this one on us. That's
not happening again.' "
The Nittany Lions answered quickly, easily and often, outgaining Illinois
for the night by 438 yards to 244. They picked up 221 yards rushing and 217 passing.
Robinson's four first-quarter TD passes - a 35-yarder to Kilmer, 31- and
19-yarders to an impossibly wide-open Butler, and a 3-yarder to backup tight
end Hall - made a statement: The offense wasn't flat; the Lions weren't going
to miss Williams on this night; and their opponents' defense couldn't stop traffic
with a red light.
Robinson ran for two TDs in the second quarter after Connor's fumble return
and left with Penn State holding a neat little 49-3 lead. Kinlaw's score on Morelli's
first series made it 56-3 at the half.
So in less than two quarters, Robinson had accounted for a school-record-tying
six touchdowns and 263 yards of offense. The senior from Richmond, Va., almost
casually completed 11 of 18 passes for 194 yards and four touchdowns. And his
rushing total of 69 yards included scoring runs of 4 and 31 yards.
"If somebody [in the Big Ten] is better than he is, they've got to
be awfully good," Paterno said.
The 56 points were a first-half record for the Lions, surpassing the 55
they got against Fordham in 1947.
"It's the Big Ten and anything can happen," Robinson said. "But
I never thought I'd be out of the game before the second quarter was over."