The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Illinois football faces big test in 1st conference matchup against No. 7 Penn State

Candice Zhou
Illini and Penn State lineup against each other before starting their plays on Sunday.

The first two weeks of the 2023 season have not gone according to plan for the Illini (1-1), and it doesn’t get any easier in week three. The No. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions (2-0) travel to Champaign for an 11 a.m. CT matchup on FOX.

Negativity has surrounded the Illini after they were defeated by the Kansas Jayhawks last Friday night. However, Illini coaches quickly deflected any gloom directed towards them, preaching that they had been here before.

“I think the biggest thing that we took is, a year ago at this time, it was the exact same scenario,” said head coach Bret Bielema. “We were a 1-1 football team after a disappointing Friday night road game loss.”

Looking to get back on track, this will be the first time the two programs have met in Champaign since 2018. The Nittany Lions also seek revenge after falling at home in their most recent meeting in 2021 in nine overtimes.

Led by five-star freshman quarterback Drew Allar, the Nittany Lions high-octane offense will test the Illini in all facets. However, the Illini are the healthiest they have been all season with sophomore safety Matthew Bailey returning Saturday. With a full roster, it will be all hands-on deck against a program that hasn’t been in a competitive game yet.

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    Allar has been impressive in his first two collegiate games, racking up 529 yards on a whopping 78% completion percentage. He has five total touchdowns through two games and has only been sacked once, behind one of the nation’s top offensive lines.

    Their dominance may prove difficult for an Illini defensive line that has not lived up to preseason hype thus far. While junior defensive lineman Jer’Zhan Newton had an impressive game against the Jayhawks with two sacks, the rest of the line was dominated Friday and against Toledo. The Illini would love a breakout game on Saturday, but it will be a challenge.

    The Nittany Lion defense is equally talented as their offense, many returning from last year’s group that ended the 2022 campaign, shutting down Utah in a primetime Rose Bowl game. A linebacker duo of junior Curtis Jacobs and sophomore Abdul Carter lead the way for Penn State and are key players to watch on Saturday.

    The overall athleticism from the Nittany Lions will provide exciting matchups for Illini receivers, who want to step up after last week and lead the Illini to victory.

    “The dreams and aspirations in our room haven’t changed because of the results of one game,” Bielema said. “We have a 1-0 mentality. One of the goals we talked about was going 1-0 on a weekly basis.”

    A win this week would put the Illini in a prime position to achieve their goals heading into their final nonconference game. It would also give the Illini their first consecutive game win streak against the Nittany Lions ever and first ranked win since November 2021.


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    About the Contributors
    Ben Fader, Assistant Sports Editor
    Hello, I’m Ben! I’m a junior at Illinois and assistant sports editor at The Daily Illini. I’m majoring in journalism and minoring in communications and recreation, sport and tourism. This is my third year with The Daily Illini, and I can’t wait to produce some amazing work. Feel free to contact me at my email below with questions or concerns, or if you just want to talk sports!
    Candice Zhou, Assistant Photo Editor
    Hey! My name is Candice Zhou, and I’m a junior majoring in accounting and finance. I joined The Daily Illini in spring 2022 as a photographer and am now the assistant photo editor. I love music and singing (I am currently in a band called Too Soon!). I also like traveling, watching movies, playing tennis, etc. Fun fact about me: I am a DJ! If you have any questions, feel free to email me!