LIVE! Penn State

LIVE! Penn State

No. 10 Penn State 63, Illinois 24 — FINAL

Illinois seemed to be on the verge of turning a corner. Then slammed hard into a wall.

Illinois (2-2) held Penn State (4-0) close for the first half, then took a 24-21 lead with 10:36 to play in the third quarter, but the final 15 minutes of the night belonged exclusively to the Nittany Lions, who scored five straight touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

Penn State running back Miles Sanders rushed for 200 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries, including a 48-yard touchdown run to take the lead back from the Illini in the third quarter, 28-24. He was one of three PSU rushers to score on the night, as Ricky Slade found the end zone twice before Journey Brown capped the Nittany Lions' night with their final score.

In his second career start, M.J. Rivers II completed 17 of 28 passes for 149 yards with a touchdown and an interception, while also scrambling 10 times for 24 yards. He looked more poised in his second game starting in place of injured AJ Bush Jr., which was his first start at Memorial Stadium (in front of 34,704 fans Friday night).

Rivers got support out of the backfield from Reggie Corbin (11 carries, 87 yards, 1 TD) and Mike Epstein (13 carries, 73 yards), while Ricky Smalling hauled in two touchdown receptions — including one from Trenard Davis on a 17-yard trick play. But all the offensive tricks in the book were for naught when Penn State got rolling late.

Illinois' defense weathered beneath the Nittany Lions' top-10 force shortly after the Illini took the lead, at which point Penn State scored 42 unanswered points to rewrite the narrative from a competitive game into an unsightly loss.

The loss was Illinois' sixth in its last seven Big Ten home openers.

No. 10 Penn State 63, Illinois 24 — 1:56 left in 4th

After Illinois freshman Matt Robinson's lone pass of the game was picked off by Penn State's Ellis Brooks, which turned into another score for the Nittany Lions after Journey Brown ran for four yards, then six more for the touchdown. He is the third Penn State rusher to score on the night.


No. 10 Penn State 56, Illinois 24 — 4:24 left in 4th

With McSorley resting on the sideline, Nittany Lions backup quarterback Sean Clifford connected with Mac Hippenhammer for a 44-yard reception just short of a touchdown. Slade then punched it in the very next play, tallying his second touchdown of the quarter (and the night) to cap a six-play, 54-yard drive.


No. 10 Penn State 49, Illinois 24 — 9:58 left in 4th

Ricky Slade's 61-yard touchdown run on the second play of the Nittany Lions' drive deflated what little hope remained for the Illini, as Penn State extended its lead to 25 points late in the final quarter. Slade is the second PSU rusher to score on the night, as Miles Sanders has three scores from the ground game.


No. 10 Penn State 42, Illinois 24 — 14:08 left in 4th

That's probably it. Penn State turned an interception of M.J. Rivers II (the first of his career) into a touchdown. And quickly. It took just one play — a 21-yard touchdown pass from Trace McSorley to KJ Hamler — for the Nittany Lions to score the likely dagger touchdown.


No. 10 Penn State 35, Illinois 24 — 14:53 left in 4th

The last two Penn State touchdown drives have been extended by a personal foul on the Illini, with Isaiah Gay and Nate Hobbs both being flagged for illegal helmet contact. The Nittany Lions turned the latest into a 16-yard touchdown pass from Trace McSorley to Juwan Johnson after a penalty on Penn State negated it's Philly Special touchdown pass to McSorley.


No. 10 Penn State 28, Illinois 24 — 8:36 left in 3rd

As good as Illinois' run game has been tonight — it's been pretty good — Penn State's has been better. The Nittany Lions now have 271 rushing yards as a team after a 48-yard touchdown run by Miles Sanders. That's Sanders' third touchdown, and he leads everybody with 19 carries for 178 yards.


Illinois 24, No. 10 Penn State 21 — 10:36 left in 3rd

Illinois fans are getting a more comprehensive look at Rod Smith's offense. Take the Illini's latest touchdown. If you're roster aware, you knew that when M.J. Rivers II flipped the ball to Trenard Davis on a reverse sweep action that Davis was going to look to pass. The former emergency quarterback for the Illini found an open Ricky Smalling for a 17-yard touchdown pass.


No. 10 Penn State 21, Illinois 17 — Halftime

When Illinois punted with 49 seconds left in the first half, it looked like Penn State — which has had no trouble moving the ball — would get a chance to add to its lead. Then Illini safety Delano Ware picked off an underthrown Trace McSorley pass, and Illinois got a 42-yard field goal from Chase McLaughlin to end the half. It's a ball game in Champaign. Who woulda thunk it?


No. 10 Penn State 21, Illinois 14 — 6:47 left in 2nd

Illinois is hanging with Penn State, and M.J. Rivers II is looking decisive in the passing game. That's a good sign. The Illini know what they're going to get from Mike Epstein and Reggie Corbin in the run game. They need Rivers to be productive through the air, and his 6-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Smalling was productive. It was also a laser of a throw. Rivers has had some heat on the ball tonight. Best of all, he's testing the Penn State defense down the field. It's not all super safe throws like it was last week against South Florida.


No. 10 Penn State 21, Illinois 7 — 8:11 left in 2nd

Remember how easily Penn State moved the ball in its previous drives? Well, it's still happening. The Nittany Lions reeled off eight plays for 66 yards and another touchdown — this one a 5-yard touchdown pass from Trace McSorley to Pat Freiermuth. Penn State is closing in on 300 yards of total offense, and there's (as you can see above) a lot of time left before halftime.


No. 10 Penn State 14, Illinois 7 — 12:52 left in 2nd

Penn State ended the first quarter with 200 yards of total offense. Do a little math, and you come up with the Nittany Lions on pace for 800 yards of offense tonight. That's ... only somewhat unreasonable. Penn State added 25 more yards to wrap up its scoring drive — Miles Sanders rushing the final 2 into the end zone for his second touchdown of the game.

Illinois is having some serious trouble stopping Penn State's read option. Sanders and Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley already have 131 rushing yards combined. The Illini's struggles in run defense — particularly with a quarterback that will keep the ball from time to time — are in clear focus right now.


Illinois 7, No. 10 Penn State 7 — 2:16 left in 1st

Turns out giving the ball to Mike Epstein and Reggie Corbin — in any way, shape or form — is a good thing. Corbin turned a bubble screen pass into 12 yards to start the drive, Epstein broke runs of 13 and 18 yards and M.J. Rivers had a 10-yard run of his own and big time completed pass to Trenard Davis (19 yards). Illinois moved the ball efficiently and effectively, with Corbin capping the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. It's arguably the best the Illinois offense has looked all season.


No. 10 Penn State 7, Illinois 0 — 9:17 left in 1st

Illinois forced a Penn State fumble on the first drive of the game, when Stanley Green got his helmet on the ball and Michael Marchese scooped it up. Then the Illini offense went three-and-out on a drive that lasted just 75 seconds. It was an opportunity lost.

Penn State had no trouble moving the ball on its second drive, covering 70 yards on nine plays. The bulk of that came on the ground, as Miles Sanders racked up 48 yards on five carries — the last of which was a 14-yard touchdown run. Those carries by Sanders featured a lot of broken (and missed) tackles.

Simply put, the Illini are going to have to force a lot of turnovers to keep this Penn State offense from rolling right over them.


Illinois vs. Penn State — 8 p.m., FS1

A couple of notes on tonight's starters. M.J. Rivers II was announced as starting quarterback over AJ Bush Jr., and none of the formerly(?) suspended players are starting.


Illinois vs. Penn State — 8 p.m., FS1

Time for a dive through Illini Twitter, starting with radio analyst Martin O'Donnell because of his stellar GIF use ...


Illinois vs. Penn State — 8 p.m., FS1

There's still no word on whether AJ Bush Jr. or M.J. Rivers II will start at quarterback tonight against Penn State. Based on the 25 minutes of open practice this week, I'd probably have to say Rivers. Bush didn't really participate mucn in that not even half hour of practice. Of course, that was also Tuesday. Things could have changed since then.

Bush is in uniform and warming up right now. Of course, he was in uniform last week against South Florida but didn't play. Should find out in about 10 minutes or so when the starters are announced.

In good news for the Illini, the five suspended players are all in uniform and going through warmups. That would seem to indicate their suspensions have concluded. That's going to make a difference. The Illinois secondary needs Nate Hobbs and Bennett Williams, and the Illini offense — short on targets in the passing game with multiple injuries — could certainly use Lou Dorsey and even Carmoni Green.


Illinois vs. Penn State — 8 p.m., FS1

Illinois coach Lovie Smith had plenty to say during his weekly press conference Monday at Memorial Stadium. A sampling:

On defense forcing more turnovers
"We have done a good job. We have a goal of getting at least three [per game]. We didn't get that this past week. One more, one more takeaway would have been the difference in that game. We're not there yet, but hopefully we'll get there. We will keep harping on that to get that done."

On special teams play
"Blake Hayes, we know what he's been able to do just for the defense. Backing them up, placements of the ball. That's a weapon. Same thing with Chase McLaughlin. This past week, we're playing great returner, there's a lot of different ways to try and take him out of the game. Chase has worked awfully hard to get stronger, and we see that in his leg strength, as well as being accurate with those field goals. Right before the half, that gave us a big boost. Very happy with what those guys have done."

On playing Penn State
"How about we start with Quarterback. He's mobile, he's accurate throwing the ball, good athlete. Running game wise, they have a good staple of running backs. Wide-outs, line. Just kind of go down the list, they have good players at most positions. These are the kind of games, where we are with our program, we look forward to this challenge. When you play an opponent like this, you want to play them at home. We're going to show up excited about seeing exactly how much improvement we can make and how we come back from adversity."


Welcome back to another LIVE! Report from Memorial Stadium. This one will get the #B1GAfterDark treatment with Illinois and Penn State not set for kickoff until 8 p.m. The particularly late start will affect the LIVE! updates with even an extended deadline not really enough, so apologies in advance for when I disappear late in the game. 

Anyway, it's already been a busy day in Champaign. Illinois basketball fans had a reason for some excitement this afternoon with top 50 recruits E.J. Liddell, Terrence Shannon Jr. and Oscar Tshiebwe all on campus. The crowd at Ubben Basketball Complex was huge — probably a fire hazard there were so many crowded on the balcony level.

Will Illinois football fans feel the same kind of excitement tonight? Well, the odds are against them. Penn State opened as a 27 1/2-point favorite, and while the line hasn't moved much the Nittany Lions are still a consensus four-touchdown favorite.

While you're waiting for more LIVE! updates, catch up on our pregame coverage:

Full breakdown of the Illini and Nittany Lions

Bob Asmussen's Final Word

Gameday Q&A with Chase McLaughlin

A 'welcome back' for Tim Banks

N-G staff picks

Talking points with Penn State beat writer Ben Jones