First road test provides new challenges for Penn State

Sep. 16—One thing Bret Bielema thinks about often is the reality no coach ever wants to face.

Every weekend college football games are played, half the teams will lose.

Last weekend, and rather surprisingly, his was one of them. Resurgent Illinois entered the season a darkhorse contender to win the Big Ten West, but 2023 has not started with the promise 2022 showed.

To avoid being in the wrong half of the teams around college football this weekend, Bielema knows the Fighting Illini must do the one thing that can turn its season around. He also knows it will be easier said than done.

The Fighting Illini return home after a stunning loss to Kansas last Friday to take on surging No. 7 Penn State at noon at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, looking for another program-turning upset of the Nittany Lions. When the programs last met at Beaver Stadium in 2021, Illinois shocked the team that was then-ranked No. 7 in the nation, pulling off a 20-18 win in nine overtimes.

The once-downtrodden Illini have undergone a bit of rebirth since Bielema took over the program in 2021, and a loss like that 34-23 drubbing by the Jayhawks on Sept. 8 registers as especially difficult coming off their first New Year’s Bowl season in 15 years. That’s a good thing, Bielema insists, even if it resulted in an especially difficult week with the Nittany Lions looming.

“One of the things we commonly talk about in our program, one of the best things that can happen, is you grow a lot from difficult conversations,” Bielema said. “When you have things you need to correct and things that need to be done, those conversations aren’t as easy as when you’re very successful. For the defensive staff, for the offensive staff, just to go back and revisit so we can move forward is never easy.”

Illinois entered the season boasting a defense strong up the middle, led by…

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Author : The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa.

Publish date : 2023-09-16 19:11:00

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