CHAMPAIGN — Miles Sanders set career highs by rushing for 200 yards and three touchdowns, Trace McSorley threw for three TDs and ran for a personal-best 92 yards, and No. 10 Penn State scored 35 points in the fourth quarter to pull away for a 63-24 victory over Illinois on Friday night.
The Nittany Lions (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) broke this one open after getting all they could handle from a team showing signs of a turnaround in coach Lovie Smith’s third season.
Penn State fell behind by three early in the third before Sanders scored on a 48-yard run and put away Illinois (2-2, 0-1) with two touchdowns in the opening minute of the fourth.
McSorley threw a 16-yard TD to Juwan Johnson on the first play of the quarter. Ian Johnson intercepted Illinois’ M.J. Rivers, and McSorley hit KJ Hamler with a 21-yarder on the next play, making it 42-24.
Sanders easily surpassed his previous highs of 118 yards and two TDs. He had 113 yards and two scores in the first half alone.
McSorley showed why he is a Heisman Trophy hopeful, eclipsing his previous rushing high of 81 yards against Maryland in 2016. The senior also completed 12 of 19 passes for 160 yards with an interception.
Ricky Slade added a 61-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, and the Nittany Lions racked up 591 yards.
Rivers, a true freshman, was 17 of 28 for 149 yards, a touchdown and an interception in his second start with AJ Bush nursing a hamstring injury.
Reggie Corbin ran for 87 yards. Mike Epstein finished with 73after back-to-back 100-yard rushing games.
Sanders broke a tackle and plowed through three defenders near the goal line for a 14-yard touchdown that gave Penn State a 7-0 lead.
Illinois tied it on a 2-yard run by Corbin. Then the Nittany Lions scored back-to-back touchdowns and looked ready to blow it open.
Sanders scored from the 2 after the Illini’s Sydney Brown got flagged for interference on an overthrown pass intended for Hamler in the end zone. McSorley then threw a 5-yard TD to Pat Freiermuth, who skidded into the end zone as he lost his footing, to make it 21-7.
But a 51-yard run by Corbin set up a 6-yard touchdown pass from Rivers to Ricky Smalling, after the Illini’s Daniel Barker fumbled a reception near the goal line, to make it a seven-point game midway through the second quarter.
Illinois’ Delano Ware intercepted a deep pass by McSorley into double coverage with about 30 seconds left in the half when Penn State could have opted to run out the clock. That led to a 42-yard field goal by Chase McLaughlin as time expired, making it 21-17.
Penn State: Though they didn’t put this one away until the fourth, the Nittany Lions got another lopsided win after outscoring Pittsburgh and Kent State by a combined 114-16.
Illinois: Whether Bush returns to the lineup or not, Rivers is showing he could be a major contributor for the Illini.
Penn State: Hosts No. 4 Ohio State next Saturday.
Illinois: Visits Rutgers on Oct. 6.