|Illinois 27, Penn State 20|
|September 29, 2007|
|Memorial Stadium - Champaign, IL|
|Kickoff Time: 12:00 p.m. EDT|
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - On the doorstep of the end zone once again, Anthony
Morelli scanned the field for a receiver, didn’t see anything he
liked, and stepped up in the pocket. Open field beckoned, and Morelli
uncharacteristically headed upfield.
“My back was to the football,” said Leman, who added 10 tackles to his Big Ten-leading total of 59. “I just watched (Quarless’) eyes. I could see that his eyes got big, and I started swatting before the ball got there.”
Two plays later, Morelli, under heavy pressure, tried Quarless again but threw behind him and short, and Leman made a leaping interception at his own 3-yard line.
Penn State’s defense forced a five-play stop as the fourth quarter began, but Morelli was intercepted along the left sideline at the Illinois 25 by Vontae Davis on the next possession, and a 53-yard run from backup quarterback Eddie McGee set up Jason Reda’s second field goal of the day, a 33-yarder with seven minutes remaining.
Morelli was 5-for-7 on the ensuing drive, including a 47-yard completion to Williams, but lost the fourth-down fumble after a hit from Justin Harrison with 2:12 left. The play was reviewed and the ruling upheld.
Three Penn State timeouts and a shanked Santella punt somehow gave Morelli yet another shot, from the Illinois 42-yard line, but his wobbly, scrambling pass on 3rd-and-20 was intercepted by Mitchell at the 9-yard line in the final minute.
The first half owned most of the day’s highlights for both teams. After Kevin Kelly’s 26-yard field goal was partially blocked by Davis but went in anyway with 9:33 left in the first quarter, Benn, who hadn’t returned a kickoff in college before Saturday, found a seam up the middle, broke a Tyrell Sales tackle and continued unabated into the end zone.
Three of Illinois’ six third-down conversions set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Rashard Mendenhall (18 carries, 76 yards) with 2:03 left in the first quarter, giving Illinois a 14-3 lead, but the Nittany Lions, with much more offensive pep than they displayed in Ann Arbor, answered with a 42-yard strike from Morelli to Jordan Norwood (three catches, 89 yards), then a 24-yard touchdown from Morelli to Williams (five for 79).
Benn broke three tackles after catching a pass from Juice Williams (11-of-24, 120 yards, two interceptions) and cruising in from 29 yards out, and a 43-yard catch by Norwood set up Scott’s 7-yard touchdown run with 8:54 left in the second, keeping Penn State within 21-17 at halftime.
Of Penn State’s eye-popping 152 first-quarter yards, 133 of them came through the air. Paterno, whose conservative playcalling against Michigan was questioned by fans and media this week, maintained that the offense was no more "wide-open" Saturday than it had been all year.
“It was no different than basically what we’ve been trying to do all along,” Paterno said. “When we get the pass, we’re gonna throw it. These guys played a little differently than some other people, gave us some more room.”
When that room disappeared as the Nittany Lions got closer to the goal line, though, the dark clouds came in quickly.
“Obviously, we weren’t really effective down there today,” Paterno said. “It’s tough. You’ve gotta play better than that, there’s no question about that.”