Big Ten

Will Penn State have enough offense to keep up with Hoosiers?

james-franklin-1007.png

Will Penn State have enough offense to keep up with Hoosiers?

After stumbling upon an offensive spark plug in true freshman running back Saquon Barkley, an injury to the exciting young ball-carrier sent the Penn State offense crashing back down to Earth.

It's possible Barkley — along with veteran running back Akeel Lynch — could miss a second straight game when Penn State hosts Indiana on Saturday. Barkley and Lynch, who both sat out of last weekend’s win over Army, were left off the Nittany Lions’ depth chart when it was released Tuesday.

Barkley had two big performances in wins over Buffalo and Rutgers. Against Buffalo, he carried the ball 12 times for 115 yards and a touchdown. Against Rutgers, he had 21 carries for 195 yards and two touchdowns. Even before leaving Penn State’s win over San Diego State with an injury, Barkley rushed eight times for 62 yards and had a 22-yard receiving touchdown.

And Lynch has fared well, at times, too. He ran for 120 yards and a touchdown against Rutgers and had at least 10 carries in each of the team’s first four games.

Without Barkley and Lynch against Army, though, Penn State mustered just 20 points (this after averaging more than 30 in the three previous games) and 264 total yards, just 108 of which came on the ground. It meant a narrow 20-14 win over the Black Knights.

[MORE BIG TEN: After surgeries, infection, ICU stay, Matt Frazier finally back to football]

The fact that the absence of Barkley, a true freshman, can so dramatically change the fortunes of the offense is an illustration of a big problem for Penn State: Outside of this one player, the offense still is struggling to function. It was the case last season, and it’s the case again this season, with the Lions ranking 116th in the FBS in total offense (329.2 total yards per game). Only one other Power 5 conference team (Missouri) ranks lower.

That low number is fueled mostly by an ineffective passing offense, which is averaging just 171.2 yards per game. Now, that’s not even last or second to last in the Big Ten, with Maryland and Northwestern averaging fewer, but it’s hardly good. Christian Hackenberg, the junior quarterback who’s supposed to have the stuff that could make him a No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, hasn’t performed up to expectations over the past two seasons.

It’s why Barkley’s emergence was such a positive thing. Unfortunately, an injury has temporarily sent Penn State back to survival mode. The defense, it should be pointed out, is still excellent, ranking 15th in the country.

The replacement backs for Barkley and Lynch are all freshmen, too. While that's a function of the roster, not preference, it throws another wrench into things offensively.

[MORE BIG TEN: Illini's Josh Ferguson 'very, very doubtful' for game vs. Hawkeyes]

“I don't know what else to do,” Franklin said during his weekly press conference. “You say you may be getting too dependent on a freshman runner, that's all we have are freshmen runners, so I'm not sure what the other option is. ... That's where we are. So, yeah, we are dependent. Has Saquon been exciting this year? No doubt about it, no doubt about it, he's been fun to watch.

“I see Nick Scott doing nice things, I see Mark Allen starting to do some nice things, Johnathan Thomas for playing for the first time, but, yeah, are we dependent on freshmen in our running game? Yeah, this is all we have since Akeel has been out. Hopefully we can get him back and that brings more veteran leadership to us, but, yes.”

It all adds up to Penn State potentially not being able to keep up with Indiana. The high-octane Hoosiers are dealing with their own injuries right now — quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard were both knocked out of last weekend’s game and their status is unknown for Saturday — but still rank in the top 20 in the country in total offense (a hair under 500 yards a game). They average 36 points a game. They’re fresh off a near upset of No. 1 Ohio State, a 34-27 loss that had the Hoosiers with goal to go in the final seconds.

It all adds up to a real worry that, without Barkley, the Lions might simply not be able to keep up.

The Penn State offense seems to have one of two things to hope for right now: Hope that Hackenberg can figure things out, or hope that Barkley heals fast.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

anderson.jpg
USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.