Penn State vs. Illinois Preview
Dave Arroyo, Tom Shively, and Zach Green preview Penn State's matchup against the Fighting Illini of Illinois. ComRadio's coverage of the game starts at 10:30 on Saturday with the Penn State Football Pregame Show.
Big Ten play resumes this week as the Penn State Nittany Lions return to Happy Valley to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini this Saturday. After a tough loss against Ohio State, Penn State (6-2, 3-1) rebounded with a much-needed 31-30 victory over Maryland. After a dispiriting performance against Ohio State in what has been a roller coaster of a season for quarterback Christian Hackenberg, the junior was at a high point last week against Maryland. Hackenberg threw for 315 yards and three touchdowns, including a 27-yard toss to Geno Lewis with 13:39 remaining to give Penn State a 31-27 lead.
Illinois (4-3, 1-2) came up short last week against Wisconsin, losing at home 24-13. The Fighting Illini were blown away in time of possession, only possessing the ball for a miniscule 19:51. They ran the ball only 13 times compared to 43 pass attempts. After a 4-1 start, Illinois has dropped consecutive games to conference opponents and is tied for fourth in the Big Ten West. Penn State improved to 3-1 in the Big Ten East and sits in third place behind Ohio State and Michigan State.
Penn State sacked Maryland quarterback Perry Hills four times to up their sack total to a FBS-leading 31. Illinois presents a great challenge for Penn State’s defensive front, as the Fighting Illini quarterback Wes Lunt has been sacked only eight times in seven games this season. On the flip side, Illinois has registered a mere nine sacks this season. It could be an opportunity for the Penn State offensive line to play a solid game and give Hackenberg the quality pass protection that has eluded him throughout his career.
Breakout running back Saquan Barkley was held in check against Maryland last week, as the freshman was held to 65 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown. Barkley is averaging 105.3 rushing yards per game and 7.2 yards per carry in six games this season. He will look to rack up the big yardage plays this weekend that has made him one of the most exciting young players in the Big Ten.
Despite being in just his second year at Penn State, head coach James Franklin was involved in coaching rumors this past week. After Al Golden was let go by the University of Miami, Franklin was identified by CBSSports.com article as a potential replacement. During his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Franklin quickly dismissed any interest.
Illinois, however, has seen much more coaching rumors swirling around them. After the firing of head coach Tim Beckman before the start of the season due to the allegations that he interfered with medical decisions. Interim head coach Bill Cubit is trying to make his case to be the full time head coach past this season.
The Fighting Illini are carried by wide receiver Geronimo Allison, who has 48 receptions for 700 yards this season, including three touchdowns. Running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn leads Illinois with 108 carries for 447 yards and four touchdowns. Lunt has passed for 1,702 yards and nine touchdowns.
Kickoff is set for Saturday at 12:00 p.m. at Beaver Stadium. Coverage will begin with the ComRadio Penn State Football Pregame Show at 10:30 a.m.
Ryan Leonardo is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org