If the Illinois football team wants any chance at beating Penn State, we are going to have to move the ball down the field better than the first two weeks.
The Illini offense has been underwhelming, to say the least. This program has more weapons on offense than what we have seen, though. I believe we can control the game and get the upset over the Nittany Lions.
But Penn State does have a solid defense. This unit is looking to shut the Illini down, and it could happen if something doesn’t change.
Here is what the Illinois football team will face, as these are the pregame grades of the Penn State defense
- Defensive Line – Overall B-
Honestly, the Penn State defensive line doesn’t blow me away. They are a good unit, but this is one of the weaker front fours that I have seen the Nittany Lions put out there in years.
Through two games, Penn State is giving up 146.0 yards per game on the ground, which ranks No. 77 in the country. On top of that, most defensive linemen aren’t highly graded.
Defensive tackle Zane Durant is the best lineman this season thus far, as he has a grade of 77.8, which ranks No. 37 out of 673 graded interior linemen. The other three starting defensive linemen are ranked No. 186 or worse at their position.
I still think the Penn State defensive line is solid, but this is definitely their weakness. It is a great chance for Illinois to run the ball and control the clock.
- Linebackers – Overall B+
The Penn State linebacker corps is dangerous. They have some good players, but they do have some weaknesses as well.
I think the best attribute that the Penn State linebackers bring to the table is chaos. The defensive coordinator doesn’t like to just rush four. He is always bringing an extra player or two on a blitz. That is why Penn State averages 3.0 sacks per game, which ranks No. 24 in the nation.
Kobe King is a monster at linebacker. Despite average grades through two games, both Curtis Jacobs and Abdul Carter can wreak havoc as well.
These linebackers can pressure the quarterback and get around our defensive ends, but this also leaves the center of the field open. They aren’t great at run-stopping, so the Illini need to take advantage of when Penn State brings the house. Running the ball can help take pressure off quarterback Luke Altmyer.
- Defensive Backs – Overall B+
Penn State has been able to shut down the opposing offense’s passing games this season. They are giving up 162.0 yards per game through the air, which ranks. No. 25 in the country.
Johnny Dixon is one of the best cornerbacks in the nation. He has a grade of 76.7 this season, and that is good enough to rank No. 57 out of 618 cornerbacks.
I also like the depth the Penn State has in the secondary. Kalen King is solid and has experience. He has double-digit starts during his career. Keaton Ellis is also back at safety after starting every game last season for Penn State.
Do I think this Nittany Lions secondary is great? No, but they are a pretty good unit. Illinois needs to run the ball on Saturday.