Conference games start this weekend, which means every game matters.
The Illini will not be eased into Big Ten play as they host No. 7 Penn State this Saturday at 11 a.m.
Illinois’ defense has not been up to par, giving up 477.5 yards per game so far in 2023 against two non-conference opponents.
Head coach Bret Bielema knows that there has to be adjustments made and he’s not shying away from that.
“You grow a lot from difficult conversations,” he said.
Although this season hasn’t started the way we all thought it would, Bielema is optimistic about this group. He’s taking a very realistic approach into this week.
“Half of the teams in college football lose every weekend,” Bielema said.
The last time these two teams faced off, it was one of the biggest Illinois upsets in recent memory. The orange and blue outlasted the Nittany Lions in a 9-OT thriller.
But this is not 2021; these are two very different teams.
Illinois just came off a deflating loss at Kansas and Penn State is flying high after a 63-point outburst against Delaware.
Despite last week’s loss, Bielema is keeping his guys focused on the task at hand going into Saturday’s matchup.
“The dreams and aspirations of our room haven’t changed just because of the results of one game,” he said.
A lot of the scoring drives given up by the Illini defense this season have been prolonged by penalties. Coach Bielema emphasized the importance of discipline in order to reduce these unnecessary fouls on both sides of the ball.
“Our guys have to learn that restraint is a very big part of the game and we’ve got to do a better job of that even when you’re provoked,” Bielema said.
The last time Penn State and Illinois faced off we had the longest game in FBS history with NINE OTs— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 12, 2023
What kind of game do you expect this weekend? pic.twitter.com/uAi0Wjw7bi
The Big Ten currently has three teams in the AP top-10. Penn State will arguably be the most talented team the Illini have to face this season.