No. 7 Penn State leaves the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium for its first road test of the 2023 campaign as it takes on an Illinois team fresh off a lopsided nonconference loss to Kansas in Week 2. Entering the year, the Nittany Lions were a trendy pick to win the the Big Ten, and through two games in the 2023 season, they’ve certainly looked like a team that could challenge league powers Michigan and Ohio State for the top spot later in the year.
After opening with a 38-15 win over West Virginia, the Nittany Lions crushed Delaware 63-7 last week. New starting quarterback Drew Allar has shown flashes of the talent that had him rated as a five-star prospect out of high school and the Nittany Lions have looked solid in all phases of the game.
The same cannot be said of Illinois, which seems to have done a complete 180 from 2022. After surprising the country last year with an eight-win season behind one of the best defenses in the country, the Illini have struggled to get stops in their first two games. They needed a last-minute field goal to get by Toledo in their opener and lost to Kansas last Friday after digging themselves an early hole in the first half.
Now, these teams will begin their conference slates against each other. Penn State has long gotten the better of the matchup, winning 20 of the 26 meetings. Illinois, however, won the last meeting in 2021 after defeating Penn State 20-18 nine-overtime affair in State College, Pennsylvania.
Penn State vs. Illinois: Need to know
Penn State has won 14 straight against unranked opponents: The last time Penn State lost to an unranked opponent? I’ll give you a hint. It involved nine overtimes and 38 points. Yes, that’s right, I’m talking about the all-time classic that saw Penn State lose to this same Illini program 29-18 during the 2021 season. If you don’t remember, the teams played to a 10-10 standstill after four quarters and needed nine overtimes before Illinois finally converted a 2-point attempt and stopped Penn State.
KeAndre Lambert-Smith leads the Big Ten in receiving yards per game: We heard a lot of hype about the Penn State defense in the offseason and its depth at running back. There was plenty of talk surrounding Allar as well. The question that popped up repeatedly was who would emerge as the team’s leading receiver threat? Parker Washington and Mitchell Tinsley had both moved on, and the Nittany Lions had lost Jahan Dotson the year before. Enter Lambert-Smith. He’s caught 10 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns in Penn State’s first two games. His 98.5 receiving yards per game is the best in the conference, ahead of Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr.
Illinois’ Johnny Newton has been stellar through two games: Illinois’ defense has struggled through two games, which is a shift in direction after it was one of the best in the country last year. However, while the secondary has been a concern, the preseason All-American on the defensive line has lived up to the billing. Newton has been his usual disruptive self with a pair of sacks and seven QB pressures. The Illini will need him to make more noise in the backfield this weekend if they want to pull off another upset of the Nittany Lions.
How to watch Penn State vs Illinois live
Date: Saturday, September 16 | Time: 12 p.m. ET
Location: Memorial Stadium — Champaign, Illinois
TV: Fox | Live stream: fubo (Try for free)
Penn State vs. Illinois prediction, picks
Odds via SportsLine consensus
While Illinois has struggled defensively to begin the season, I anticipate it’ll look better this weekend. As talented as Allar is, he’s not the dual-threat that has posed the Illini so many problems. Illinois was hesitant to bring pressure in the first two games for fear of Toledo’s Dequan Finn or Kansas’ Jalon Daniels breaking free for long runs. On the other side, while Illinois’ offense has looked good, Penn State will be the toughest defense it’s faced by far. I don’t think it’ll be as ugly as the nine-OT game of 2021, but I don’t think it’ll feature many more points, either. Pick: Under 48.5
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