Penn State has made it to championship weekend and it appears they will be the only team in the B1G that will have played all 9 games this season. That is truly remarkable, particularly given how this year started for the Nittany Lions. It would have been easy to give up, in a fake season with nothing to play for, instead they worked through it and won three straight to bring us to this point. The opportunity to finish the season without a losing record is within reach. As long as this team remains focused, Illinois should not derail goal.
Penn State 31, Illinois 20
Penn State is fourth in the East. They have 3 wins to their name. Illinois has just one fewer win but they’re slotted 7th in the West. Is Penn State really that much better than Illinois? I think not.
Illinois 17, Penn State 14
Illinois has a somewhat struggling offense and is dealing with the fact that they currently have no head coach. Penn State has won three in a row. Advantage: Penn State.
Penn State 28, Illinois 14
PSU seems to be hitting their stride while one has to wonder whether Illinois will just be going through the motions thanks to Lovie Smith being fired. Give me the good guys in this one.
Penn State 31, Illinois 13
After an 0-5 start the Nittany Lions have won 3 in a row, finally appearing to have some fun while doing so. Penn State is the far superior team to Illinois in terms of talent and one has to wonder how many Fs the Illini will give on Saturday, especially with an interim coach. Penn State makes it 4 wins in a row.
Penn State 28, Illinois 17
(originally appearing in the Game Preview)
Something really stuck out to me in the fourth quarter of last week’s victory against Michigan State. For the first time this season, the team looked like they were bonded and having serious fun. First there was the instant classic celebration following Dotson’s incredible 81-yard punt return touchdown where he was hoisted in the air and carried up and down the sideline. Moments later (:14 in football time, to be precise), the sideline erupted after freshman defensive end Amin Vanover made a one-handed snag of an errant pass.
This team has clearly come a long ways in a few short weeks. They somehow managed to stay on track after a disastrous start, during an overall troublesome year, where it would have been so easy to simply go through the motions until the season came to a merciful end. Instead, they fought back, cleaned up mistakes that were holding them back, and rededicated themselves to the back-half of the season.
An entire host of players who were tossed into the fire have shown rapid development, and have given this team a new attitude. They are playing as a complete team who obviously have each others backs. They are playing with confidence and the expectation of victory.
I do expect Illinois to put up a fight, despite the firing of Lovie Smith. This game could easily be a tryout for whoever is leading the Illini next fall. But Penn State is playing with purpose, which means they will be able to line up against the Illini and take care of business.
Jahan Dotson scores on an 81-yard touchdown reception to match his punt return from a week ago, Parker Washington proves that he’s the Big Ten’s top freshman with a 110 yard receiving day and two scores, while Sean Clifford manages another long touchdown run.
On defense, Jaquan Brisker continues his hot streak with eight tackles, a sack and forced fumble, while Shaka Toney picks up two sacks in his (actual) final game in Beaver Stadium.
The good guys extend their winning streak, then wait to see what may be next.
Penn State 35, Illinois 17