Penn State opens Big Ten play against Illinois
No. 10 Penn State (3-0, Big Ten 0-0) at Illinois (2-1, 0-0), Friday, 9 p.m. ET (FS1).
Line: Penn State by 27.
Series record: Penn State leads 18-5.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
The Nittany Lions are rolling going into conference play, having outscored their last two opponents 114-16 overall and 72-0 in the second half. Illinois, coming off a 2-10 season last year, looks to find its footing in coach Lovie Smith’s third season. One bit of hope: the Illini fought heavily favored South Florida to the end, with QB M.J. Rivers overthrowing a pass into the end zone that could have won the game for Illinois as time expired.
Penn State’s defense, ranked in the top 40 nationally, against a rejuvenated Illinois running game led by sophomore Mike Epstein and made even more dangerous by offensive coordinator Rod Smith’s spread offense. Look for Illinois to utilize Epstein as a receiver out of the backfield, a tactic that worked well against South Florida.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Penn State: QB Trace McSorley has accounted for 66 points so far this season to rank second in the Big Ten and seventh in FBS. 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.
Illinois: Epstein and whoever lines up behind center. Starting QB AJ Bush has been out two weeks with a hamstring injury and Rivers has done a nice job leading the offense. Smith should announce the starter on Friday.
FACTS & FIGURES
Penn State ranks in the top 40 in both offense and defense. .. The Fighting Illini are tied for the lead in the Big Ten (with Ohio State) with a plus-five turnover margin and have at least one takeaway in their last 17 games. ... Penn State is 14-9-1 overall record in Friday regular-season games, with a 6-4-0 record on the road, but has not played on Friday since 1982, the day after Thanksgiving. ... The Illinois ranks fourth in the Big Ten and 23rd in the FBS, averaging 243.0 yards rushing per game. Epstein (7.17) and Reggie Corbin (6.49) rank second and fourth, respectively, in the Big Ten in yards per carry.
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