Penn State-Illinois Football Game Notes

Senior DE Shareef Miller (48) of Penn State University Football sacks sophomore QB Woody Barrett (15) of Kent State University during an NCAA college football game this past Saturday, Sept. 15. (Photo courtesy of Penn State Football)

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — No. 10/9 Penn State opens its nine-game Big Ten slate at Illinois, taking the field at Memorial Stadium for the first time since 2014 on Friday night. Kickoff is set for 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT on FS1.

Penn State is playing its first regular-season game on a Friday since a 1982 day-after-Thanksgiving tilt against Pittsburgh. The No. 2 Nittany Lions defeated the No. 5 Panthers, 19-10, to conclude the regular season, and then went on to defeat No. 1 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl to win the National Championship.

The game opens Penn State’s 26th Big Ten season.

The Nittany Lions have been dominant since its season-opening overtime battle with Appalachian State, outscoring their last two opponents 114-16 overall and 72-0 in the second half.

Penn State has found success in all three phases of the game, ranking in the top 40 in both offense and defense, while boasting the fourth-best kickoff return average and 16th-best punt return average.

Quarterback Trace McSorley has led the scoring attack, taking responsibility for 66 points to rank second in the Big Ten and seventh in FBS. On the other side of the ball, the Penn State defense has put significant pressure on opposing quarterbacks, ranking fourth in FBS with 4.33 sacks per game.

Illinois is 2-1 to open 2018, defeating Kent State and Western Illinois in the first two weeks of the season, respectively, before succumbing to a fourth-quarter rally by South Florida in a neutral site contest on Chicago’s Soldier Field last week. The Fighting Illini have excelled in the turnover battle this season, as they are tied for the lead in the Big Ten (Ohio State) with a plus-five turnover margin and have at least one takeaway in their last 17 games.

HEAD COACH

LOVIE SMITH

-Lovie Smith was named head coach at Illinois on March 7, 2016. Smith spent his first 14 years coaching at the collegiate level, working at Tulsa (1983-86), Wisconsin (1987), Arizona State (1988-91), Kentucky (1992), Tennessee (1993-94) and Ohio State (1995).

-Smith brings 19 years of NFL coaching experience, including 11 years as a head coach. He has a 89-87 (.506) record as an NFL head coach from 2004-12 (Bears) and 2014-15 (Buccaneers).

-With the Bears, he won three division titles, made two NFC Championship Game appearances (2006, 2010) and a berth in Super Bowl XLI.

-Smith spent three seasons with the St. Louis Rams as the assistant head coach/defensive coordinator (2003) and defensive coordinator (2001-02). The Rams fell to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI, but Smith’s defense held the New England offense to 267 yards and ten points (2001).

SCOUTING THE

FIGHTING ILLINI

-Illinois is 2-1 entering Big Ten play, with wins against Kent State, a common opponent with Penn State, and Western Illinois. Last week, Illinois lost to South Florida in a neutral site game at Chicago’s Soldier Field.

-The Illini carry a 17-game takeaway streak, and Illinois’ seven turnovers gained, two turnovers lost and plus-five turnover margin this season are all tied with Ohio State for the best in the Big Ten.

-Jartavius Martin and Del’Shawn Phillips are tied for the Big Ten lead with Penn State’s Amani Oruwariye with two interceptions each.

-Freshman quarterback MJ Rivers II has been behind center since the second quarter of the Illini’s second game of the year, as senior quarterback AJ Bush, Jr. was injured. Rivers earned his first career start in the USF game. Bush completed 18-of-30 passes for 223 yards in five quarters of action, while Rivers has completed 29-of-45 passes for 273 yards and two touchdowns in seven quarters.

-The Illinois rushing attack ranks fourth in the Big Ten and 23rd in the FBS, averaging 243.0 yards per game.

-Mike Epstein (7.17) and Reggie Corbin (6.49) rank second and fourth, respectively, in the Big Ten in yards per carry. Both totals rank in the top 25 nationally.

GOTTA GET DOWN

ON FRIDAY

-Penn State is playing its 25th Friday, regular-season game all-time.

-Penn State owns a 14-9-1 overall record in Friday regular-season games, with a 6-4-0 record on the road.

-Penn State is playing a regular-season game on a Friday for the first time since Nov. 26, 1982. No. 2 Penn State defeated No. 5 Pittsburgh, 19-10, that day. That game secured the Nittany Lions’ Sugar Bowl berth, where they went on to defeat No. 1 Georgia for the program’s first National Championship.

-Penn State is playing a regular-season game on a Friday on the road for the first time since Sept. 1, 1978, when the No. 3 Nittany Lions defeated Temple in a season-opening tilt in Veterans Stadium, 10-7.

-The Illinois game marks Penn State’s sixth Friday night regular season game. Penn State’s very first night game was played on Friday, Oct. 31, 1941 at the Polo Grounds against NYU. The Lions are 4-1 in Friday night games, with all five taking place on the road or at neutral sites.

-Penn State is playing a Big Ten game on a Friday for the first time.

-The last time Penn State played on a Friday was the 2010 Capital One Bowl. No. 11 Penn State defeated No. 13 LSU, 19-17.

-The last time Penn State played a regular-season game on a day other than Saturday was Sunday, Aug. 27, 2000, when No. 22 Penn State opened the season against No. 15 USC in Giants Stadium. The Trojans won, 29-5.

PENN STATE IN 26TH

BIG TEN SEASON

-After 106 years as an independent in football, Penn State began play in the Big Ten Conference in 1993 and is playing its 26th season in the conference.

-The Nittany Lions were outright Big Ten Champions in 1994 and 2016 and shared titles with Ohio State in 2005 and 2008.

-Penn State beat Oregon to win the 1995 Rose Bowl and played USC in the 2009 and 2017 Rose Bowls.

-Penn State won the 2006 Orange Bowl and finished the season ranked No. 3.

PENN STATE VS. BIG TEN

-Penn State has won 16 out of its last 18 games against Big Ten opponents.

-Penn State won 13 consecutive games against Big Ten opponents from 2016-17, breaking its record of 12 from 1993-94.

-Penn State owns a 208-101-3 mark against Big Ten Conference teams since the Nittany Lions first opposed Ohio State in 1912.

-The Nittany Lions began play as a member of the Big Ten Conference in 1993 and have a 126-75 mark.

-Penn State played 109 games vs. the current Big Ten alignment when either or both Penn State itself (prior to 1993) or the opponent (Nebraska prior to 2011; Maryland and Rutgers prior to 2014) was not yet a member of the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions went 80-26-3 in those games.

B1G OPENERS

OF THE YEARS

-Penn State owns an 12-13 record in Big Ten opening contests.

-Penn State is opening the Big Ten season on the road for the 17th time in its 25 seasons in the league. The Nittany Lions are 8-8 on the road in openers.

-Penn State is opening against Illinois for its fourth time in program history, tying with Iowa and Wisconsin as its most frequent opening opponents.

-Penn State has won all three Big Ten openers against Illinois (41-6, 1997; 38-24, 2008; 35-7, 2012). The 1997 and 2012 openers were hosted by Illinois, while the 2008 opener was played at Penn State.

-The Nittany Lions have also played Indiana (3), Minnesota (3), Northwestern (1), Ohio State (3), Michigan (2) and Rutgers (2) in Big Ten openers.

NITTANY LIONS

FROM ILLINOIS

-LB Frank Di Leo – Elmhurst/Saint Ignatius College Prep

-SN Joe Calcagno – Elmhurst/Fenwick

-DE Daniel Joseph – Brampton, Ontario, Canada/Lake Forrest Academy (Ill.)

-OL Bryce Effner – Aurora/Metea Valley

PENN STATE-ILLINOIS

CONNECTIONS

-Penn State redshirt freshman KJ Hamler Illinois freshmen OL Reuben Unije, DB PC Daniel II and DL Verdis Brown all played at IMG Academy in Florida.

COACHING CONNECTIONS

-Penn State co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Tim Banks was Illinois’ defensive coordinator and secondary coach from 2012-15.

-Banks and Illinois special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky coached together at Bowling Green in 1999. Backs was the running backs coach and Ligashesky was the assistant head coach and linebackers and special teams coach.

-Penn State special teams coordinator Phil Galiano was Ligashesky’s assistant with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012. Ligashesky was the special teams coordinator.

-Ligashesky was on former Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien’s Houston Texans staff as the special teams coordinator from 2014-15.

-Illinois head coach Lovie Smith visited Beaver Stadium in 1995 as Ohio State’s defensive backs coach. The Buckeyes defeated Penn State, 28-25.

-Illinois defensive line coach Austin Clark was the assistant defensive line/outside linebackers coach for Southern California when Penn State and the Trojans met in the 2017 Rose Bowl.

LIONS UNDER THE LIGHTS

-The 2018 season marks the 18th straight with at least one regular-season night game on the schedule, and the 10th since 2000 with multiple night games in the same season.

-Penn State won its first night game of the season at Pitt in Week 2, 51-6. The Lions have now won their last eight night games, including a 4-0 mark last season, and eight of their last nine dating back to 2015.

-Three of Penn State’s first five games of the season were scheduled to be played at night. Next, the Week 5 game against Ohio State will kick at 8 p.m. on Sept. 29 on ABC.

-Penn State is 50-30 at night all-time. The figure breaks down to 14-9 at home, 24-14 on the road and 12-7 in neutral site games. Penn State is 1-1 at regular season neutral sites, 11-6 in bowl games and 1-0 in conference championship games.

-The Lions’ night games since 2000 include: Pitt

-(2018); Michigan, Iowa and Georgia State (2017); Ohio State, Iowa, Rutgers and Wisconsin (2016); Ohio State and Rutgers (2015); Boston College (Pinstripe Bowl), Ohio State, Michigan and Rutgers (2014); Ohio State, Michigan and UCF (2013); Iowa and Ohio State (2012); Northwestern (2011); Alabama, Iowa and Michigan (2010); Iowa (2009); Illinois, Wisconsin and Ohio State (2008); Notre Dame, Ohio State and Texas A&M (2007), Michigan (2006)

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