Game Grades: Penn State vs. Illinois
Penn State’s 39-0 blowout win over Illinois was the first time the Nittany Lions have shut out a Big Ten opponent since 2009. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg got the job done with his arm, throwing two passing touchdowns while also catching a touchdown as well. The defense kept the Fighting Illini in check, allowing only 12 first downs and forcing a turnover.
Hackenberg had another good game, going 21 for 29 for 266 yards and two touchdowns. Hackenberg looked comfortable in the pocket, stepping up without even having to scramble. He also caught a ball thrown by Nick Scott for 14 yards and a touchdown. Trace McSorley also made an appearance late in the game and went 0-3, though he did rush three times for 15 yards.
Running Backs: B+
Saquon Barkley led the pack of Nittany Lion running backs again this week, with 20 carries for 84 yards and a touchdown. The highlight of the game was Barkley’s 7-yard touchdown run, where he hurdled one Illinois player at the goal line to score. Other running backs that made plays this week were Mark Allen, who rushed twice for 23 yards and a touchdown. Only three out of eight players who had a rushing attempt averaged less than four yards per carry.
Wide Receivers: A
Chris Godwin was the top receiver for the Nittany Lions, hauling in seven catches for 76 yards and a touchdown. Godwin, yet again, was a very reliable pass catcher and continues to be Hackenberg’s favorite target. Other top pass catchers included Saquon Barkley, who caught three balls for 58 yards. DaeSean Hamilton tallied four receptions for 54 yards, including a 19-yard reception on third down to keep a drive alive that eventually led to a Penn State touchdown. Geno Lewis added two catches for 15 yards and a touchdown.
Offensive Line: B
The offensive line could be stronger, but they certainly didn’t jeopardize the game. Hackenberg was pressured a few times and sacked three times. On the other hand, there were many more plays where Hackenberg had plenty of time in the pocket to settle and throw a clean pass. Running backs did occasionally have problems finding a hole up the middle, as the unit did struggle at times securing the middle. When the Illini defense brought pressure around the outside, the offensive line did a good job of keeping the pressure outside and created a pocket for Hackenberg to step up into.
The Fighting Illini had no answers for Penn State’s brick wall of a defense. The Nittany Lions sacked Illinois quarterbacks four times, as Austin Johnson, Anthony Zettel, Carl Nassib and Curtis Cothran all tallied a sack. The blue and white held the Illini to only 167 total yards, the lowest amount this season. The defense worked out the Illinois punter, forcing him punt 12 times.
Special Teams: B
Tyler Davis came into the game after two missed extra points and a terrible kickoff by Joey Julius. Davis made both of his field goal attempts as well as all three of his extra points. Davis has shown himself to be very reliable, though lacking the same leg strength as Julius. Daniel Pasquariello punted five times, averaging over 40 yards. Pasquariello added one touchback and landed two punts inside the 20-yard line. No kick return was longer than 15 yards, and there were no punt returns. On the Penn State returning sides, Koa Farmer had one big return of 57 yards to start the third quarter, which led to a seven play, 43-yard drive and a touchdown.
In the past, the coaching has been very conservative, but this game was different. John Donovan chose to call a few wildcat plays throughout the game, as Barkley scored his lone touchdown out of the wildcat formation. There also was a designed halfback pass, as Nick Scott rolled to his right and then threw to a wide-open Christian Hackenberg on the left side for the touchdown. The coaching staff also made the right move by taking out a struggling Joey Julius for Tyler Davis before too much damage was done. The only slip up was when Penn State had to burn back-to-back timeouts on one play because Illinois brought in their backup quarterback on fourth down, creating confusion on the defense.
Tommy Butler is a freshman who is currently majoring in film and video. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org