Penn State vs. Illinois Preview

Story posted October 22, 2021 in Sports, CommRadio by Emma Holtz

After a two-week hiatus, the No. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions return to Beaver Stadium this weekend for a homecoming matchup against the Illinois Fighting Illini on Saturday.

After a 2020 homecoming that could not deliver on its usual event schedule due to COVID-19, the homecoming game between Penn State and Illinois has received a heightened sense of anticipation.

A question circulating throughout the Penn State community is quarterback Sean Clifford’s health going into the noon showdown. Clifford appeared at practice on Wednesday in full pads throwing for reps.

James Franklin alluded that Wednesday was not Clifford’s first participation in throwing drills. All three quarterbacks on the roster, Clifford, Ta’Quan Roberson and Christian Veilleux, took reps and are in contention for the starting position.

“Hopefully, obviously, we’ll have an idea before that,” Franklin said regarding Clifford’s likelihood to play on Saturday. “It was good to see him be able to get some reps today at practice, all three of them.”

Clifford’s injury is not the only pressing issue facing the blue and white going into the homecoming game. Running backs Devyn Ford and John Lovett were taken out of the game against Iowa for respective injuries.

The defense was not spared, as defensive tackle PJ Mustipher went down early against Iowa with a season-ending injury. Safeties Jaquan Brisker and Jonathan Sutherland are among other defensive forces with minor injuries.

Brisker’s nine total tackles and an interception against the Hawkeyes made it difficult for Iowa to tredge downfield on an offensive drive. He said that he takes cues from the opposing quarterback’s eye movements moments before a play.

If his eyes sweep the field, Brisker said it may indicate an upcoming pass play. If a running back is shaking out their legs, it may signal a run play to Brisker.

These insights will be valuable against an Illinois offense that favors the running game. With an average of 164.1 rushing yards per game, the Fighting Illini are ranked eighth for rushing in the Big Ten.

Top running backs on its roster are Josh McCray and Chase Brown, who have torn up the field in previous games and look to repeat those successes against the Nittany Lions.

Franklin mentioned Illinois’ versatile offensive weapon, redshirt freshman wide receiver Isaiah Williams, as another player on Penn State’s radar.

“He gave us fits last year as a dynamic guy that can do a lot of different things as a receiver, as a running back, as a quarterback off double passes,” Franklin said. “He’s the guy that you better be aware of.”


Emma Holtz is a second-year majoring in public relations. To contact her, email exh5337@psu.edu.