What you need to know: Penn State at Illinois
UNIVERSITY PARK — Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.
Game details: at Illinois, 9 p.m. kickoff (ET), broadcast on FS1.
Records: Penn State 3-0, Illinois 1-2.
Last week: Penn State bulldozed Kent State 63-10, while Illinois lost to South Florida 25-19.
Venue: Memorial Stadium.
Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 84 degrees, with a couple of showers possible.
Overview: For the first time in history, Penn State will play a Big Ten contest on Friday night, with the game kicking off at 8 p.m. local time (9 ET). Illinois has looked its usual dreadful self thus far in 2018, while Penn State is truly playing like a Top 10 team. The Nittany Lions outpaced Pitt and Kent State so much in the last two weeks that Sean Clifford has seen meaningful playing time at quarterback, including throwing the longest touchdown in program history last week — a 95-yarder to Daniel George. Illinois might be the worst team in the Big Ten; it’s either the Fighting Illini or Rutgers. Even with a short week, Penn State should have relative ease in dispatching Illinois.
The line: Penn State – 26.5
All-time series: Penn State leads 18-5.
Last time they met (2015): Penn State collected a 39-0 victory at Beaver Stadium.
Throwback classic (1994): Penn State completed an epic comeback, roaring back from a 28-point deficit to keep its undefeated season going.
Penn State wins if: the Nittany Lions continue to win at the line of scrimmage. Penn State rolled up 297 rushing yards against Kent State, the sixth-straight game that the Nittany Lions have gained at least 200 yards on the ground.
Illinois wins if: the Fighting Illini can somehow, somehow, pressure McSorley, and find ways to score points from their defense or special teams. It’ll take an extraordinary effort — and some good bounces — for Illinois to hang in this one. And it’s hard to see that happening with the way that Penn State has looked through its first three games.
Count on: Penn State enjoying a well-earned rest on the way home. The Nittany Lions will bypass their usual day off this week — Monday — with having to travel on Thursday and play on Friday night. Franklin has stated he’s not a fan of the setup, saying that Friday nights are reserved for high school football, which plays a pivotal role in many small towns across the country. He and the team will have one less day to prepare, though a benefit (if you can call it that), is that Penn State will have a little bit extra time to rest up before Ohio State visits Happy Valley the following Saturday for the team’s annual White Out game.
Keep an eye on: Penn State receiver Juwan Johnson. Both he and DeAndre Thompkins had struggled with drops through the first two games. Thompkins broke out against Kent State, finishing with four catches for 101 yards, and a fantastic diving grab for a touchdown, the Nittany Lions’ opening score. Johnson is capable of producing similar numbers, and this week may be his turn.
Trivia tidbit: In beating Pitt and Kent State in dominating fashion, Penn State finished with consecutive 45-point wins for the first time since 1947, when the Nittany Lions defeated Bucknell 54-0 and Fordham 75-0.
Prediction: Penn State 45, Illinois 17
*Season record: 3-0.
*Season record against the spread: 2-1.
*HappyValley.com season records