Penn State looks to avoid letdown against Illinois
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — No. 10 Penn State brings its high-powered offense to Illinois on Friday night, heavily favored against a young Illini team off to an encouraging start.
The Nittany Lions (3-0) are a 28-point favorite, not exactly a new situation for an Illini team used to being the underdog. But Illinois (2-1) nearly upset South Florida last week and shows little fear going into the Big Ten opener for both teams.
“We’re going to show up excited about seeing exactly how much improvement we can make and how we come back from adversity,” Illinois coach Lovie Smith said. “Penn State has been one of the top teams in our conference for a few years now. We understand the challenge.”
The Nittany Lions have outscored their last two opponents 114-16, including 72-0 in the second half. Quarterback Trace McSorley has accounted for 66 points so far this season to rank second in the Big Ten and seventh in FBS.
McSorley faces an Illinois defense tied for the lead in the Big Ten (with Ohio State) with a plus-five turnover margin and has at least one takeaway in their last 17 games.
“I think the biggest factor in this game, no doubt about it, is going to be turnovers,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “I think they’ve gotten a turnover in 17 straight games. They have not turned the ball over this year, one of only a few programs in the country that has done that.”
On the other side of the ball, the Penn State defense has put significant pressure on opposing quarterbacks, ranking fourth in FBS with 4.33 sacks per game.
Franklin said he respects Smith and isn’t taking Illinois for granted.
“They put up pretty good numbers statistically offensively,” Franklin said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us.”
Illinois defeated Kent State and Western Illinois as expected and proved more than a match for South Florida in the 25-19 loss. Smith saw much to be optimistic about in that game.
“We got better in a lot of ways. Offense, defense, special teams,” Smith said. “There were things that we liked, things we can build on. We started fast. We had an opportunity to win right up until the last play.”