Penn State football vs. Illinois Preview

penn state football

Penn State football will host Illinois on Saturday to cap off the 2020 season. The Fighting Illini will be without a head coach as Lovie Smith was fired on Sunday following their 28-10 loss at Northwestern.

If Penn State can keep its winning streak alive, it’ll be able to build some momentum going into 2021 after an otherwise disappointing season. It’ll be a cold season finale in Happy Valley. Here’s a look ahead of the Nittany Lions’ matchup with Illinois.


The offense is finally starting to click and has been able to form long scoring drives in the past few weeks. This is a Penn State team that is now averaging over 400 yards of total offense per and nearly 30 points per game in its last three games.

Take that with a struggling Illinois defense, and I think the high scoring will continue this week. The Illini are giving up an average of 451 yards and 32 points per game. Sean Clifford and the offense can keep it rolling and have another big game on Saturday.

In last week’s win against Michigan State we saw a glimpse of how special the duo of Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington could be. With Brenton Strange emerging as a quality tight end and KeAndre Lambert-Smith improving every week, Clifford now has some consistent down field threats to keep the defense honest against the passing game.

If the Nittany Lions can get the ground game going with Devyn Ford and Keyvone Lee who were relatively quiet last week, it’ll be tough to stop the offense once it gets in rhythm. If those guys can get going with the threat of Will Levis and Clifford’s legs as well, it could be a long day for the Illinois defense. I think Kirk Ciarracca will keep his foot on the gas for a preview of what we’ll see next season.


After a horrible second quarter against the Spartans, the Penn State defense woke up and managed to hold them to just three points after halftime. Playing well for one half and bad in the other has been a trend for this group this year, so it’d be nice to see it put a full four quarters together in Week 9.

Brent Pry’s defense is now allowing 335 yards and 28.5 points per game whereas Illinois’ offense is putting up 360 yards and just 20 points a game. After an impressive 41-23 win over Nebraska, the Illini offense struggled against Iowa and Northwestern, scoring 21 and 10 points in each.

Hopefully the defense that comes to play on Saturday is the one from the second half against Michigan State. Whether Penn State finishes 3-6 or 4-5, the season is a failure, everyone knows that. But ending on a four game winning streak after all the adversity the Nittany Lions faced would say something about the culture James Franklin has created in Happy Valley.

I’m excited to watch some extra December football and the way Penn State has been playing, I’ve gotten my hopes up yet again. What could go wrong? It’ll be the last Penn State football game until Sept. 4 when it travels to Madison for a 2016 Big Ten Championship rematch against Wisconsin. Even though this season has taken years off my life, I’m still going to soak it in.

Game info

Date: Dec. 19
Time: 5:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Penn State -15
Over/Under: 52

Prediction: Penn State 42, Illinois 20