Penn State resumes its chase for a Big Ten football title Saturday with one more tour of the West Division. The Lions host Illinois, which also had a bye, before concluding the regular season with five games against East Division opponents.
While the stretch run is daunting, Penn State first needs to get past Illinois potentially without two of its best players. Here's the early look at Penn State-Illinois.
Penn State (5-1) vs. Illinois (2-5)
- When: Noon ET Saturday
- Where: Beaver Stadium
- TV: ABC
- Streaming: fuboTV
- Betting Line: Penn State is a 23-point favorite, according to SI SportsBook
- Series History: Penn State leads 20-5
- Last Meeting: Penn State 56-21 in 2020
- Streaks: Penn State has won four straight home games against Illinois
About the Lions: Their visit to Iowa proved costly beyond the loss. The Lions lost three captains to injury that day, including defensive tackle PJ Mustipher for the season. Mustipher's absence is significant. He was having an all-Big Ten season in the middle and was a key reason Arnold Ebiketie, Ellis Brooks and Jaquan Brisker could be so successful. Penn State's defensive line already was thin, having lost end Adisa Isaac to injury before the season and tackle Hakeem Beamon for undisclosed reasons. Dvon Ellies played well at Iowa behind Mustipher but also left the game briefly because he was hurt. He and Coziah Izzard will shoulder plenty of responsibility on the line in Mustipher's absence. Meanwhile, quarterback Sean Clifford's status remains uncertain after he was knocked from the game. Ideally, Penn State would start Ta'Quan Roberson at quarterback and hope to get Clifford back for Ohio State on Oct. 30. With two weeks as the lead quarterback in practice, Roberson should be better prepared than he was to be parachuted into the Iowa game. Further, offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich must tailor a gameplan to minimize Roberson's weaknesses and deliver him some confidence.
About the Illini: The last time we saw Illinois, new coach Bret Bielema was on the Beaver Stadium sideline in December, when Penn State won 56-21. It was a cold, grim evening for the Illini, and this season appears headed in the same direction. Illinois has lost five of six since a season-opening win over Nebraska, and its offense has been dreary. The Illini rank last in the Big Ten in scoring offense (17.7 points per game) and can't throw the ball (153.7 yards per game). In their last game against Wisconsin, the Illini managed just 93 yards of offense, averaging less than 2 per play. Bielema assessed his roster rather plainly this week. "I'm going to have to make tough decisions, the players are going to make tough decisions, and I'm going to have to make some roster changes," the coach said.
The quarterback situation has been a mess. Rutgers transfer Artur Sitkowski has replaced Brandon Peters twice because of injuries, and neither quarterback has been very effective. Since Sitkowski and Peters combined for a completion rate of 78.9 percent against Nebraska, Illinois hasn't completed more than 54 percent of its passes in a game. Against Wisconsin, Sitkowski went 8 for 12 and threw 12 consecutive incompletions in one stretch. Illinois' defense has been pretty good the past month, allowing more than 20 points only once. But the Illini offense has been of no help whatsoever.