(Editor's note: Rich Scarcella appears on this week's edition of the IlliniGuys Sports Spectacular syndicated radio show, which can be heard in six states on more than 20 radio affiliates in Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. https://illiniguys.com/radio/)
(Cover photo courtesy Penn State Athletics)
September 16, 2023
Larry Smith: Rich Scarcella is a beat writer for the Reading Eagle and writes for seven other papers in southeast Pennsylvania. Rich, welcome to the show. Glad you're with us.
Rich Scarcella: Thanks for having me, Larry. I appreciate being with you guys.
LS: We've been on this road before, right? Two years ago, Illinois struggling, they go to take on a highly ranked Penn State team. We said there's no way in the world that this is a surprise win. And we got a surprise in record fashion. Any concern right now that history could repeat itself?
RS: I'm sure there's concern. It's a road game. It's Penn State's first road game of the year. Illinois went into the season with a very stout defense. They haven't played that way in the first two games. I think Penn State has a lot of respect for Illinois and expects a very close game.
Brad Sturdy: When you look at this matchup, what do you see here? I mean, could Penn State trouble from Illinois?
RS: Well, for Penn State it's the third game, but it's the first time they're going to be seeing a dual threat quarterback with Luke Altmyer. So that's a concern, you know, how do they react to that? Isaiah Williams is a tremendous athlete. You know, we we've seen him play before. Even though the defense has struggled in the first two games, there's a lot of talent on that side of the ball that could give Penn State trouble. So we'll see. Penn State has a lot of depth. This is Penn State's deepest and most talented team since James Franklin arrived in 2014. So we'll see if they'll get a chance to prove it Saturday.
LS: Penn State has a new quarterback in Drew Allar and it appears in the first two games, he's done everyone that coach Franklin and the staff have asked of him.
RS: Larry, there's a lot of hype about Drew Allar ever since he committed to Penn State. He was a five-star recruit, he's the highest rated quarterback that James Franklin has ever recruited. And so far in his first two starts, he's delivered and he has given Penn State fans exactly what they want. This week will be different. This is his first road start. And it's his first start in a Big 10 game, so we'll see how he reacts, but what he's done so far (with) 78% completion percentage, no turnovers. He's played very, very well. He ran the ball five times last week. But he is more of a traditional drop back passer. His first touchdown pass this season against West Virginia in their opener, did a nice job of escaping pressure stepping up in the pocket and then made a throw that very few quarterbacks in the country can make off balance. On a rope to Kiandra Lambert-Smith for a 72-yard touchdown.
LS: So much talk out of this program and Penn State nation that this is the best team Franklin's had. This is the team that can finally take (Michigan and Ohio State) down. Do you see anything here in the first two weeks that would counter that argument? In watching this team, it feels like they've done everything the right way here in the first two games and going into this game in Champaign,
RS: They were vulnerable last year, especially at Michigan. The Wolverines rush for over 400 yards against them. They have that power running game, a very physical-type game. And they've been vulnerable at times against power running teams. Illinois likes to run the ball, but they have a dual threat quarterback. But to me, that's the one area where Penn State has to prove itself defensively. Offensively, we went into this season thinking that question marks were their wide receivers. So far Kiandra Lambert-Smith and Trey Wallace have delivered.
BS: So you mentioned the defense and that they haven't seen a dual threat quarterback. What's kind of the question mark here?
RS: Well, to me, can their interior of their defensive line, can they go up against a very physical team and stop the run when they have to? They have tremendous speed at all three levels. That's not that's not an issue. This might be Franklin's fastest team. Terrific athletes on all three levels. So to me, the real question more is again, the middle of that defensive line, the middle linebacker and the middle linebacker position? Can they stop a power running game?
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