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Nittany Lions Ready for Showdown with Illini

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The Penn State Nittany Lions stumbled out of the gate against a tough Temple team on opening day, and they lost by four touchdowns in Columbus to the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes a few Saturdays ago. Other than those two blemishes, they have put together a very impressive season.

During last Saturday’s win at Maryland, the team showed that they have a toughness and resiliency akin to top-flight college football programs. They left town with a 31-30 victory following their second consecutive road game. The squad has come back home and practiced in Happy Valley all week in preparation for this Saturday’s showdown against Illinois.

The Fighting Illini come in with a 4-3 overall record and a 1-2 record in the Big Ten. They are at the bottom looking up at the major players, and the Lions will need to dispatch of the squad if they want to be considered in this exclusive bunch.

Penn State has increasingly become a team that leans on the running game instead of the arm of Christian Hackenberg. Freshman Saquon Barkley has shown amazing talents in just a half-dozen games this season, racking up over 600 yards and four touchdowns by way of an eye-popping 7.2 yards per carry. He is an explosive runner who makes his way through small holes quickly and has keen awareness of both the first down chains and the importance of protecting the football.

Even though the overall statistics are not gaudy, Penn State is a very difficult team to stop when Christian Hackenberg is handling the ball well and making good decisions. The now Junior arrived on campus with incredibly lofty expectations a few years ago, and he has done his best to live up to them. Although some would argue that his NFL stock is lower than many predicted when he began his freshman season, that is simply a testament to the pedigree of so many defenses he has played.

Illinois has a solid stop unit, and they are keeping their opponents under 200 yards through the air and under 150 yards on the ground. If they do accomplish both of these feast against Penn State, there is a very good chance they win this football game. Although they come into the game with a shaky 4-3 record, the oddsmakers in Vegas have only made Penn State a five point favorite, which means that they expect this game to be very close. Prediction: Illinois 17 Penn State 21

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Nittany Lions Poised to Clash with Army Team Coming Off Huge Win

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The Army West Point Black Knights won their first game on the road in the last 21 attempts this past Saturday at Eastern Michigan, and they will be looking to keep the momentum going when they head into Happy Valley for a showdown against the Penn State Nittany Lions on Saturday.

While there is a very slim chance that Army will leave the field with a victory, all esteemed programs such as Penn State are honored to be able to play military academies known for their grit, determination and toughness from the opening kick until the final whistle.

Penn State has showed plenty of fight and toughness over the last three games after being absolutely embarrassed in Philadelphia against a tough Temple squad to start the season. At home against San Diego state this past Saturday, the Nittany Lions had their way with their opponent in virtually every sense.

Led by quarterback Christian Hackenberg, Penn State racked up 400 yards on exactly 70 plays from scrimmage. Compare this to the anemic 180 yards they gained on 52 players in the aforementioned opener against Temple, and the level of improvement was enough for many Penn State fans to breathe a deep sigh of relief.

In order for them to continue the march toward their lofty goals in 2015, they will have to dispatch of this Army team by a handful of touchdowns. For the Black Knights, accomplishing gains through the air and stopping opponents from doing so have both been ongoing issues. They’ll come into this game with the 118th-overall ranked passing offense, and the 93rd-ranked overall defense against the pass. They are gaining less than 100 yards per game through the air and allowing well over 250.

This creates a situation where Army must successfully run the ball throughout the game in order to keep the chains moving and have any chance of stacking up points. This is another glaring problem, as Penn State has the 13th-ranked overall run defense, allowing just a fraction over 90 yards on the ground per game.

For those savvy in the art of college football game planning, these stats have basically backed Army into a corner where they will need to throw the ball much more than they are comfortable with in order to compete. That could play right into the hands of a hungry Penn State defense, and this could be a blowout by halftime.

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Solid Recruiting Class Led by Offensive Line Giants

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Penn State head coach James Franklin appears to be poised for a long tenure in Happy Valley, and he has already shown his power to recruit top-flight high school seniors. The 2015 Nittany Lions recruiting class features over two dozen players who are already enrolled at the University and practicing in hopes of making an impact as soon as opening day of this year.

Saquon Barkley is a strong and lightning fast 5′ 11″ running back out of Whitehall, Pennsylvania who will likely be plugged into the multi-headed monster that is the Penn State backfield immediately. His knack for turning from a blocker into a receiver in the flat and his sticky hands will both be valuable commodities.

Garrett Taylor is a highly touted cornerback out of Richmond, Virginia. While on the sidelines during one of his official visits last year, Taylor wore a Richard Sherman “Shut Down” t-shirt. A bold move from a bold man who clearly has big intentions.

The Nittany Lions made two huge recruiting scores both literally and figuratively when they were able to officially sign Sterling Jenkins out of Baldwin High School in Pittsburgh and junior-college transfer Paris Palmer out of Plymouth, North Carolina. Ready for the numbers on these two offensive lineman? How does 6′ 8″ and 305 pounds sound?

Both players are just a few inches away from setting the all-time record for height at the college football level. In a year’s time, they will likely be anchoring an o-line that protects Christian Hackenberg as he embarks on his Senior season. It is almost unfathomable to imagine two men the better part of 7 feet tall with strength and agility anchoring the offensive attack.

Penn State also inked 6′ 5″ offensive tackle Ryan Bates out of Warminster, Pennsylvania and 6′ 4″ offensive guard Steven Gonzales out of Union City High School in New Jersey. Most major programs recruited up to a half-dozen offensive lineman, but no other program was able to lure such an impressive, intimidating and diverse collection of young talent.

Another name Penn State football fans might want to keep an eye out for his Tommy Stevens. The 6′ 4″ 200-pounder out of Decatur Central High School in Indianapolis was recruited as both a quarterback and defensive tackle – an extremely rare combination at any level of college football.