3 Penn State Football keys to beating Illinois

Keyvone Lee of Penn State (Image via The Record)
Keyvone Lee of Penn State (Image via The Record) /
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Penn State Football will play host to the Illinois Fighting Illini on “champions week” this Saturday in the regular season finale at Beaver Stadium.

After notching their third straight victory in a 39-24 dismantling of Michigan State, Penn State Football looks to extend their winning streak to four when they host Illinois at Beaver Stadium this weekend.

Penn State football used a flurry of three touchdowns in three minutes in the late third, and early fourth quarter to rally from an 11 point half time deficit to defeat the Spartans. Illinois, 2-5 on the season, comes into this game on a two game losing streak and in a bit of disarray after firing head coach Lovie Smith on Sunday.

Illinois lost to Northwestern last week, 28-10 in an ugly game in Evanston as the two teams combined to throw for a mere 209 yards, while the Illini were outgained by 230 yards.

The Illini do not do anything particularly well, averaging 20 points per game on offense while allowing almost 32 points per game on defense. A big reason why Penn State football is better than a two touchdown favorite in this one.

The outlook was bleak for Penn State football after an 0-5 start, but the team seems rejuvenated during the winning streak and now even has a bowl berth to play for. As members of the national media have begun to put together 2020 bowl projections it seems any of the Duke’s Mayo Bowl, Guaranteed Rate Bowl or even the Music City Bowl could be in play for the Nittany Lions.

Any of the three are a far cry from a New Year’s Six invitation to the Cotton Bowl in 2019, however any bowl game presents the opportunity to compete and potentially get back to .500, avoiding their first losing season since 2004.

In as much of a “must win” situation a you can get in a 3-5 season, here are three keys to victory for Penn State football Saturday:

Just keep running

Penn State Football is averaging 207 yards per game on the ground over their three game winning streak.

This does not bode well for an Illini defense that struggles in that area, ranking 126th in the nation in rushing defense. In their loss to Northwestern, Illinois surrendered a staggering 411 rushing yards on 58 carries, an average of 7.1 yards a clip. The Wildcats only had to put the ball in the air 12 times for a total of 82 passing yards to get a convincing 28-10 victory.

Michigan State held the Nittany Lions to 119 rushing yards, with 84 of them coming via quarterbacks Sean Clifford and Will Levis on mostly deigned quarterback runs. The Spartans did a good job of bottling up freshman Keyvone Lee who finally looked human, only rushing for 31 yards.

Penn State did not have sophomore running back Devyn Ford for Saturday’s game and his status for week 9 is still unknown, but if he cannot go expect Lee to get the bulk of the carries with fellow freshman Coziah Holmes spelling him from time to time.

Holmes has only received five carries over the last two games and has clearly taken a back seat to Lee after he broke out with 134 rushing yards in the Michigan game, earning Big Ten freshman of the week honors.

Lee now leads the team in rushing with 353 yards and three touchdowns, averaging a solid five yards per carry.

The offensive line should have no problem getting a push upfront against this Illinois front seven and look for offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca to lean on this run game early and often in this one.