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Illini hope to end 0-6 slide on Penn State's home turf
By Lindsey Willhite | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 10/5/2010 4:59 PM

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At Beaver Stadium, the stands shake when Penn State makes a big play.

Illinois never has been able to still the Richter Scale at the end of a game there.

When the Illini travel to Penn State this week, they hope to stop their 0-6 showing at University Park, Pa.

Illinois coach Ron Zook wants to make it clear, though, that his players have no fear of the 109,000-plus fans that crowd the sport's second-largest venue.

"Our guys love that," Zook said. "That's a great atmosphere. The last time we were there, it was the Whiteout. In fact, I think that's the picture on the front of their press guide. Our guys are excited about that now. That's the fun, getting to play in places like that."

Illinois, which built confidence with last week's 58-minute fight with No. 2 Ohio State, has played relatively well in its last two visits to Penn State.

In 2006, the Illini nearly doubled Penn State's total yards. Illinois couldn't claim its second Big Ten win of the year because the hosts returned a fumble and an onside kick for a score in the 26-12 loss.

In 2008, the 22nd-ranked Illini scored touchdowns on their first two possessions before self-destructing in the second half.

Penn State's Derrick Williams became the school's first player to score on a rush, a reception and a kick return in the same game.

Passing not-so-fancy: When Illinois and Penn State meet Saturday, it'll be the battle of the Big Ten's least-efficient passing attacks.

It's probably not a coincidence that the Illini and Nittany Lions are also the conference's only schools that start freshmen at quarterback.

Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase has done most of the throwing for an attack that ranks 108th nationally in pass efficiency and 113th in passing yards.

True freshman Rob Bolden has been Penn State's starter all season. He has hit 88 of 150 passes for 1,035 yards, 6 interceptions and 3 TDs.

Zook loved Bolden when he saw him play for St. Mary's High School in suburban Detroit the same school as Illinois freshman defender Earnest Thomas.

"You watch him, he's very poised," Zook said. "I think they're doing some things in terms of getting him on the corner and getting him out there out of the pocket."

Wait and see: When cornerback Terry Hawthorne suffered a stress fracture in his right foot during preseason, Illinois suggested he'd be out no more than six weeks.

This marks the sixth week since the exciting sophomore hit the sidelines. Is he ready to go?

"I'm hoping," Zook said. "He's probably questionable. Really, it's the doctor's call."

Hawthorne and tight end Zach Becker, who has a similar injury, have been involved in recent practices.

With safety Steve Hull questionable with an ankle injury, Illinois needs someone to be the third safety as well as the "dime" back.

It looks like converted corner Pat Nixon-Youman will be that guy.

Stay hot, Trulon: Illinois junior safety Trulon Henry posted the first two interceptions of his career on Saturday. Turns out, he was just getting warm.

"Trulon, he probably had 4 or 5 interceptions in practice (Monday)," Zook said. "It's almost like a magnet once those things start happening."