No. 7 Penn State Football vs. Illinois: Nittany Lions’ 5 Keys to Victory

Penn State Football, Drew Allar,
Penn State Nittany Lions Quarterback Drew Allar (15) calls out the play prior to the snap during the second half of the College Football Game between the West Virginia Mountaineers and the Penn State Nittany Lions on September 2, 2023, at Beaver Stadium in University Park, PA. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

Saturday, Penn State Football will face its first road test of the season against the Illinois Fighting Ilini at noon.

Although Illinois is not as strong on paper this season as it was last season when the Ilini won eight games, Penn State will need to execute in all facets of the game in order to avoid an early season upset in Champaign.

Fve Keys to a Penn State Football Victory Saturday.

No free possessions, don’t turn the ball over

Penn State has been fantastic not turning the ball over so far this season.

Led by first year starting quarterback Drew Allar, the Nittany Lions have yet to turn the ball over in the first two games of the season. Allar has yet to turn the ball over in 12 games in his career and has now thrown 115 passes in his career without an interception.

Avoiding turnovers that can quickly turn into free points for the Ilini is key for Penn State to avoid getting behind the Ilini on the road.

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No special teams miscues

In Week 1 against West Virginia, Penn State missed two relatively short field goals in the final minutes before halftime that could have given Penn State a double-digit lead going into the half.

While the miscues on special teams did not ultimately affect the outcome in week one, executing on special teams can help Penn State avoid the possibility that a missed field goal could come back to bite the Nittany Lions late in the game against the Ilini.

In my bold predictions for the week, I predicted that Penn State’s special teams will be much improved this week, after Nittany Lion’s head coach James Franklin said that Penn State’s kickers had a good week in practice.

Penn State Football, Drew Allar, Kaytron Allen
Penn State Nittany Lions Quarterback Drew Allar () (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

Gap integrity and quarterback contain

Penn State Football saw in week one that a mobile quarterback can create headaches even after passing plays break down.

Garrett Greene rushed for 71 yards against the Nittany Lions in Week 1, including a long rush of 15 yards.

Illinois’ Luke Altmyer is a similar mold to Greene and has been the Ilini’s leading rusher through two weeks this season. Penn State must contain Altmyer in the pocket and not allow the mobile transfer quarterback to beat the Nittany Lions on the ground.

Execution by the offensive line, especially the interior

Illinois’ defensive strength is its interior defensive line. Led by Jer’Zhan Newton and Keith Randolf Jr., who combined for 27 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks last season, Penn State’s offensive guards and center will have their hands full all night.

The offensive line must play up to the task in giving Drew Allar enough time to find open receivers and move the ball downfield. In the running game, Illinois’ rush defense is weak outside of the interior defensive line as well, giving up over 220 yards per game this season.

If the interior offensive line is able to give Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen enough of a hole to get through to the second level, it could be a great day for the “Lawnboyz” running the football.

Don’t let the crowd play a factor

Penn State is heading into the first of a few “color outs” that the Nittany Lions will see this season as Illinois hosts an “Orange Out” Saturday.

Penn State must score early and get a lead in order to take the crowd out of the game. Especially in Drew Allar’s first road start, getting behind could create problems for the Nittany Lions as the crowd could become a factor with noise if the Ilini can capitalize early.

If Penn State can play to its gameplan, the difference in talent between the two teams should lead to a comfortable win for Penn State.

Accomplishing these keys to victory could make coming out of Champaign unbeaten easier for the Nittany Lions.

READ: Penn State vs. Illinois Picks, Predictions

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Robert Casturo

Robert Casturo

Expertise: College Football, Penn State Football Education: Saint Vincent College, Penn State Law School Location: Washington, DC Experience: Robert Casturo has covered Penn State football for NittanyCentral since 2022. Casturo previously covered Penn State football through a social media presence (@PSU_FB_Thoughts on X) since 2019. Casturo earned his bachelor's degree from Saint Vincent College in 2015, where he was a punter for 1 season on the Saint Vincent College football team and worked in the athletic department for 2 years as a student manager. Casturo earned his JD from Penn State Law in 2018 where he was a senior editor of the Penn State Law Review.