The way the week is trending, it would seem like Sean Clifford will play a couple of series. I would be just fine if he just let the backups and defense handle the day. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Penn State defense ended up outscoring the Illini offense. Just get through the week without faking more injuries and get ready for a big game in Columbus next Saturday.
Penn State 31, Illinois 10
Put me firmly in the camp that Penn State should not play Sean Clifford unless it well and truly looks like Illinois is going to pull off the upset. Lean on your defense and run game to pound the Illini into the ground, and let Clifford rest up for one more week before heading to Columbus. Ta’Quan Roberson can’t possibly play any worse than he did against Iowa, and one would hope that Yurcich has gotten him as many first team reps as possible. Or, if Roberson is indeed still struggling, kick the tires on Christian Veilleux. Keep Cliff on the sidelines, and get the win, regardless of style points. Then, gear up for a night game at the Shoe.
Penn State 31, Illinois 17
In no world should Sean Clifford play in anything less than an emergency situation. Illinois is very possibly the worst team in the Big Ten this is the perfect opponent for the Nittany Lions to play the week before Ohio State, especially when Penn State is dealing with injuries. If there was ever a weekend for the rushing attack to get going it was this weekend. Not only because Illinois is, you know, bad, but also to build confidence ahead of the showdown in Columbus.
If Christian Veilleux gets reps at quarterback I’ll be very interested to watch as he is a quarterback I have always been high on. The Nittany Lions finally run the ball with success on Saturday... AND they get a defensive touchdown. With our without Clifford the Nittany Lions blowout Illinois on their way to a 6-1 record.
Penn State 34, Illinois 10
My prediction is predicated on Sean Clifford not playing at all. If Cliff does suit up however, go ahead and add another 10-14 points to PSU’s total (at least). Look for the defense to go off on Illinois’ offense that lacks a passing attack (run game is decent, but PSU has shown itself to be pretty good at stopping one-dimensional offenses) and force multiple turnovers, creating shorter fields and making life easier for Taquan Roberson or Christian Veilleux in terms of leading scoring drives. It won’t be a comfortable win per se, but similar to the Indiana game, it won’t be one where you feel like the opponent truly has a chance.
Penn State 24, Illinois 6
Whether Sean Clifford plays or not, Penn State shouldn’t have much of an issue with Illinois thanks to the defense. The Illini won’t be mistaken for late-2000s Texas Tech, so I have faith in Brent Pry’s unit holding up. I’m going to assume that Clifford doesn’t play, but I expect a mostly comfortable victory for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State 23, Illinois 3
(originally appearing in the Game Preview)
The match-up between Penn State’s defense and the Illinois offense will be wildly in favor of the Nittany Lions. The Illini passing game leaves much to desire, and Penn State will look to shut it down from the start between their pass rush and paying close attention to the Illini’s favorite target in Isiah Williams. Once they are able to make the Illini attack one-sided, the Nittany Lions should have no problem stuffing the run game.
It’s much harder to predict what will occur once Penn State has the ball though. I’m not expecting fireworks without Clifford, but general competence with the extra week and first-team reps for the backups. Penn State should be in great shape if the offense can put together two touchdown drives and two field goals. However, I don’t see them covering the spread without a special teams or defensive touchdown.
Keyvonne Lee is the offensive MVP with 80 rushing yards and a score, while Jahan Dotson weaves his way through the defense for the other. Brandon Smith and Ellis Brooks ball out against the Illini run game, each collecting 10 tackles and two TFLs.
Penn State 20, Illinois 6