The Penn State Nittany Lions stumbled out of the gate against a tough Temple team on opening day, and they lost by four touchdowns in Columbus to the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes a few Saturdays ago. Other than those two blemishes, they have put together a very impressive season.
During last Saturday’s win at Maryland, the team showed that they have a toughness and resiliency akin to top-flight college football programs. They left town with a 31-30 victory following their second consecutive road game. The squad has come back home and practiced in Happy Valley all week in preparation for this Saturday’s showdown against Illinois.
The Fighting Illini come in with a 4-3 overall record and a 1-2 record in the Big Ten. They are at the bottom looking up at the major players, and the Lions will need to dispatch of the squad if they want to be considered in this exclusive bunch.
Penn State has increasingly become a team that leans on the running game instead of the arm of Christian Hackenberg. Freshman Saquon Barkley has shown amazing talents in just a half-dozen games this season, racking up over 600 yards and four touchdowns by way of an eye-popping 7.2 yards per carry. He is an explosive runner who makes his way through small holes quickly and has keen awareness of both the first down chains and the importance of protecting the football.
Even though the overall statistics are not gaudy, Penn State is a very difficult team to stop when Christian Hackenberg is handling the ball well and making good decisions. The now Junior arrived on campus with incredibly lofty expectations a few years ago, and he has done his best to live up to them. Although some would argue that his NFL stock is lower than many predicted when he began his freshman season, that is simply a testament to the pedigree of so many defenses he has played.
Illinois has a solid stop unit, and they are keeping their opponents under 200 yards through the air and under 150 yards on the ground. If they do accomplish both of these feast against Penn State, there is a very good chance they win this football game. Although they come into the game with a shaky 4-3 record, the oddsmakers in Vegas have only made Penn State a five point favorite, which means that they expect this game to be very close. Prediction: Illinois 17 Penn State 21
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