Penn State Football

Why Bret Bielema’s Illinois is Big Threat for No. 7 Penn State Football | Behind Enemy Lines

It’s difficult to win on the road in college football, a test No. 7 Penn State Football (2-0) has yet to face this season.

Saturday afternoon, the Nittany Lions will yet again open Big Ten Conference play on the road, heading to Champaign to take on the Fighting Illini in a noon kickoff that carries massive implications.

After holding serve at home by blowing out West Virginia, and Delaware to open the 2023 campaign, James Franklin‘s team will face its first test of the season against a ground-and-pound Big Ten opponent, in Bret Bielema’s Fighting Illini.

For this week’s edition of of Behind Enemy Lines, We Spoke to Bob Asmussen who is the Illinois Football beat writer for the Champaign News-Gazette and IlliniHQ.com. 

What are your Initial thoughts on Penn State vs Illinois?

By far the most difficult game on the Illinois schedule. And, I would say that if the team played Michigan or Ohio State.  I am bullish on the Nittany Lions. I pick them to win the East, take the Big Ten title, win the CFP semifinal (against Michigan) before losing to Georgia in the title game.  There’s so much to like in James Franklin’s team and the small concern going into the season about quarterback play seems to  have been answered by Drew Allar. Penn State Football is the best team to play at Memorial Stadium in eight years, going back to an Ohio State visit in 2015.

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Who on Offense should Penn State be concerned about?

Two guys: quarterback Luke Altmyer and receiver Isaiah Williams. Altmyer is a Mississippi transfer who has played well his first two games. The Illinois loss to Kansas was not his fault.  He has shown a strong arm and much better ability as a runner than most expected. Best thing for Illinois, he has two more years of eligibility.  Meanwhile, Williams is a converted quarterback and a threat as a receiver, runner and thrower.  Williams had 82 catches a year ago and is off to a good start. He is an explosive player who gets better each game as a receiver. 

What did you take away from the last time Penn State played Illinois?

That Bret Bielema is a good coach.  Bielema’s team was coming off a shutout loss in 2021 to Wisconsin at home. It was sitting a 1-5 and given no chance by anyone to hang with No. 7 Penn State. But it all clicked that day, especially defensively and Illinois won the craziest game in school history.

Nine overtimes is going to be difficult to top.

For those who don’t follow Illinois, what makes this matchup very interesting?

You never know how the team will play. Week to week and year to year. it is always a mystery.  I have been covering the team 34 years and haven’t been able to figure it out. I have no clue what will happen each game, so that is fun.  Saturday will ertainly not be boring.  If you told me now that Illinois will win by 14, I wouldn’t argue, because I have seen that kind of turnaround. Illinois football is an enigma. 

What is one reason why Illinois defeats Penn State?

The team hasn’t played up to its potential in a 1-1 start. Not even close. But, there is plenty of talent on hand. If Johnny Newton has a big game, or Luke Altmyer throws a couple early TD passes then Illinois can win. Bielema is an asset both for his coaching expertise and ability to motivate. He will remind his players over and over that they are the underdogs. I expect a noting-to lose attitude.

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David Malandra Jr.

I am Sports Reporter that covers Pro & College Sports in Philadelphia