Matchup: No. 10 Penn State (3-0) vs. Illinois (2-1)
Where: Memorial Stadium, Champaign, IL
When: Friday September 21st, 2018 at 9pm EST
Penn State Offense vs. Illinois Defense
By: Brandon Musso
It’s hard to criticize what the Penn State offense has done in the last few weeks. First it was 45 points scored against App State, then it was 51 points scored against Pitt, and finally it was 63 points against Kent State last week. There is no denying those are great numbers for an offense widely expected to have problems producing without star running back Saquon Barkley and a new offensive coordinator. Despite their success, the conference slate begins this week and the competition is only going to get tougher as the season goes on.
This week Penn State heads west to Illinois for a Friday night showdown with the Illini. Thus far this season the Illini defense has been average. Consider the defense’s performance against Kent State in week one. They gave up 24 points overall but a deeper look reveals a defense that struggled to keep quarterback Woody Barrett contained. While he threw two interceptions, Barrett also threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns. Furthermore, Barrett showed his dual threat ability and rushed for 117 yards and a touchdown. This is a potential weakness that McSorley can look to exploit if he also shows off his dual threat ability and gets his legs moving.
The impact players to watch begins with linebackers Jake Hansen and Del’Shawn Phillips. Sophomore, Hansen has already compiled 26 total tackles and six tackles-for-loss over the first three games of the season. Both are good enough to lead the team in each of those categories. The senior Phillips is second in tackles to Hansen but has grabbed two interceptions this season.
Upfront, the Penn State offense should be aware of defensive lineman Jamal Woods. Woods has nabbed a sack and four tackles-for-loss this season.
In general, the Illinois defense has look relatively strong stopping the traditional run game but as mentioned, has struggled containing the quarterback rush. Matched up with Miles Sanders and the Penn State rushing attack and we could see a pretty good battle.
Penn State Defense vs. Illinois Offense
By: Kraigen Rasalla
Coming off a close defeat in week 3 to a solid USF football team, the Fighting Illini look to bounce back against the Nittany Lions as both teams begin the conference slate. Let’s take a look at how the Illini match up against a Penn State defense that has regrouped since week one.
Illinois is expecting starting QB AJ Bush to be back in the lineup against the Nittany Lions. Bush is a graduate transfer who earned the starting job to start the season after stops at Nebraska and Virginia Tech. Bush has a perfect frame for a dual threat QB standing at 6’4’’ and 225 pounds. However, his hamstring injury he sustained in the victory over Western Michigan in week two may affect his performance on the ground against the Nittany Lions.
The strength of the Illini offense lies on the ground game. Reggie Corbin and Mike Epstein both average over 80 yards per game on the ground to form a dynamic duo in the backfield to go with Bush, who also averages 71 yards per game on the ground. However, Penn State is coming off a game against Kent State where they allowed 41 yards on 37 carries against an offense with similar personnel. Expect Brent Pry and his defense to continue the dominance they have shown since the second half against Pitt.
Unfortunately for Illinois, they lost two of their top targets for the season during the non-conference slate. Mike Dudek and Edwin Carter are both out for the season leaving Illinois without a single pass catcher with a touchdown catch this season. In addition, Ricky Smalling has been banged up as well for the Fighting Illini. It will be interesting to see who Bush will look to throw to with so many of his reliable options on the sidelines this week.
Brandon Musso: (3-0)
Even though the conference schedule figures to get tougher, I don’t believe this matchup to give the Nittany Lions too much trouble. Illinois has struggled the past couple years and on paper Penn State has much more superior talent than Illinois. After the past two weeks of dominance, it’s hard for me to predict anything else than Penn State winning by a rather large margin.
Penn State 45 Illinois 10
Kraigen Rasalla: (3-0)
I expect Penn State to treat this as a statement game as they head into next week to face Ohio State. The defense will continue to be stout, especially against the run, while the offense will keep its engine running, fueled by Trace McSorley. Expect the Nittany Lions to take care of business in convincing fashion.
Penn State 59 Illinois 13