By Sally Fahey

Nationally ranked Penn State is taking its 3-0 record out for spin Friday night with a 9 p.m. game at Big 10 rival Illinois, which many fans are viewing as just an appetizer before the main event of Ohio State on Sept. 29.

The Nits spanked Kent State 63-10 last Saturday, and since halftime of a Sept. 8 game at Pitt, Penn State has outscored opponents 100-10.

Illinois opened with consecutive wins but couldn’t capitalize on early success last Saturday against South Florida. The Illini, playing at home, established a 19-7 lead late in the third quarter but surrendered 18 fourth-quarter points en route to a disheartening defeat.

Here’s a thumbnail sketch of the game:

Head Coach: Lovie Smith (third season; 7-20 with Illinois)
2018 record: 2-1

Last Game: vs. South Florida (25-19 loss)

Leading Passer: MJ Rivers (273 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions)

Leading Receiver: Ricky Smalling (110 yards on seven receptions)

Leading Rusher: Mike Epstein (251 yards, two touchdowns)

Defensive Standout: linebacker Jake Hansen (26 tackles, six tackles for loss)

Stadium: Memorial Stadium (60,670 capacity)
2017 record: 2-10 overall (0-9 in Big Ten)

All-time series between Penn State and Illinois: Penn State leads 18-5

Penn State’s biggest win vs Illinois: 63-10 (2005)

Illinois’ biggest win vs. Penn State: 33-13 (2010)

Last meeting: Penn State (home) beat Illinois, 39-0, on Oct. 31, 2015

Nittany Lions quarterback Christian Hackenberg totaled three touchdown tosses — to Chris Godwin, Geno Lewis and Nick Scott — as the home squad secured a blowout win on Halloween. Trace McSorley made one of his earliest appearances but failed to complete three pass attempts. Saquon Barkley, then a freshman asserting himself as an offensive focal point, collected 142 yards and a touchdown on 23 touches. The Penn State defense limited Illinois to 167 offensive yards and linebacker Troy Reeder picked off a pass thrown by quarterback Wes Lunt.

The Nits survived an early-season scare, beating Appalachian State in an overtime opener.

The Illini trailed Kent State 17-3 at halftime in Week 1 before rallying to win 31-24. That same Golden Flashes squad allowed six unanswered touchdowns at Beaver Stadium in a 53-point loss.

Expect plenty of talk this week about a potential “trap game” for Penn State, since a Friday night contest presents an altered game-week approach and Ohio State visits Happy Valley next weekend.

Regardless of the route required, a win would put Penn State exactly where it aimed to be when the Buckeyes come to town: unbeaten with an opportunity to dictate its fate in the Big Ten East.

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