Game Preview: No. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions vs Illinois Fighting Illini

By Joel Neuschwander on October 22, 2021 at 8:30 am
Oct 9, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini players and coaches cheer on teammates during Saturday s first half against Wisconsin at Memorial Stadium.
Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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It feels like a decade since Penn State last took the field, but the Nittany Lions are back — and back in Beaver Stadium for the first time in three weeks to take on an opponent they've had plenty of success against over the years.

  Penn State Illinois
2021 Record 5-1 2-5
Head Coaches James Franklin (89-44, 65-29 with Penn State) Bret Bielema (99-63, 2-5 with Illinois)
Kickoff 12:00 PM EDT 
Television ABC
Stream WatchESPN
spread Penn State -23.5

what to watch for

WHAT IS SEAN CLIFFORD'S STATUS?

We'll get the most important aspect of Saturday's game out of the way first: Penn State still doesn't know who'll be taking snaps a little more than 24 hours from now. Or, rather, James Franklin knows and the rest of us won't until closer to kickoff. Clifford did return to practice Wednesday, but the likely bet is it'll be Ta'Quan Roberson or Christian Veilleux starting for the first time, as the two split reps throughout the week.

ILLINI WITH QB QUESTIONS OF THEIR OWN

The Nittany Lions aren't the only squad entering Saturday's contest with uncertainty at the quarterback spot. Illinois signal-caller Brandon Peters left his team's Oct. 9 game against Wisconsin and didn't return. The fifth-year senior also left Illinois' season-opener and missed two games earlier this year.

Peters practiced this week, but the Illini might lean on Rutgers transfer Artur Sitkowski against Penn State. Either way, it could be a long afternoon for an Illinois passing game that ranks near the bottom of the Big Ten in most notable categories.

ILLINOIS PLAYMAKERS

Don't be fooled by their lackluster record — the Illini still have some dudes on both sides of the ball. Isaiah Williams rushed for 122 yards at quarterback against Penn State last year and now slots in as Illinois' best receiver.

Roberson/Veilleux/Clifford would be wise to stay away from safety Kerby Joseph — he has three interceptions in five games to go along with three fumble recoveries.

HOW DOES PENN STATE RESPOND?

The Nittany Lions have had a full two weeks to dwell on a gut-wrenching loss in Iowa City. How Penn State looks in the opening 15 minutes Saturday could be a telling glimpse into where this team is at mentally. With Ohio State just around the corner, it's time to get dialed in.

prediction

No matter who steps in under center for Penn State, they'll be walking out of Happy Valley with a comfortable victory that may not look so comfortable on the scoreboard. The Nittany Lions will get a solid performance on the ground against a horrid Illinois run defense, and Penn State's defensive line will get a chance to get used to playing without PJ Mustipher.

PENN STATE 27, ILLINOIS 10

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