STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - There's a chance Penn State will insert Kevin Newsome as a change-of-pace Wildcat quarterback Saturday against Illinois.

"We discussed that," Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno said Tuesday. "But Kevin's got to spend a little more time doing his homework. Right now, he's gotten by with his athletic ability."

Paterno said the 6-foot-2, 221-pound sophomore quarterback has had a tough time doing some of what was expected of him in certain situations.

"But I think there is a place for him," Paterno said. "Maybe we have to use him a little bit more. I don't know."

What Paterno and Penn State fans do know is that the Nittany Lions need to jump-start their offense.

Penn State (3-2, 0-1 Big Ten) heads into Saturday's homecoming game against Big Ten foe Illinois (2-2, 0-1) ranked 114th nationally in red-zone offense.

The Lions have converted 12 of 18 red-zone trips, but six of those scoring drives ended with field goals.

Penn State also ranks last in the Big Ten in scoring offense at 19.2 points per game. The Lions are ranked eighth in passing offense (217 yards per game) and 10th in rushing offense (138.2) and total offense (355.2).

So this could be a good week to rotate Newsome in with true freshman starter Rob Bolden.

So far, Newsome has seen only mop-up action against Youngstown State, Alabama, Kent State, and Iowa.

An exceptional runner, Newsome averages 5.4 yards per carry and could add a dimension against one of the conference's most improved defenses.

Through four games, the Fighting Illini have allowed 1,289 total yards (322.3 yards per game) and 72 points (18 points per game). Illinois surrendered 1,671 total yards (417.8) and 119 points (29.8) through four games last season.

"But you hate to take Bolden out," Paterno said. "You start putting Newsome in there, the other kid starts looking over his shoulder. I don't know. We'll just play that by ear."

No matter who is under center in certain situations, Penn State must start better than it has in previous games.

In five games, the Nittany Lions have been outscored, 37-23, in the first quarter. And that includes the Lions' 14-0 first-quarter advantage against Kent State.

"If we're going to be a good football team, we've got to be ready to play on the opening kickoff," Paterno said. "We've been a little tentative, and I'm not sure why, to be very frank with you."

Injury update. Defensive tackle Jordan Hill (ankle) is listed as possible against Illinois. Wideout Curtis Drake (leg) and linebacker Gerald Hodges (leg) are out. Hodges is from Paulsboro.

"Drake is close, but he won't be ready this week," Paterno said of the West Catholic product. "Hill, I'm hoping, will be able to do some things tomorrow. Hodges was jogging a little bit yesterday and may be ready in a week or two.

"There's a probability all three will be able to go in a week or two."

Starting linebackers Chris Colasanti (shoulder) and Bani Gbadyu (ankle) are playing and practicing with minor injuries.