Game Grades: Penn State vs. Illinois
Despite a couple turnovers throughout the game, Penn State’s offense looked fantastic, putting up 63 points and 591 total yards of offense. The Nittany Lions had their best game running the ball then they have had all season. Miles Sanders, Ricky Slade and Journey Brown all had at least one touchdown; Miles Sanders in particular had his best ever collegiate game rushing for 200 yards on 22 carries along with three rushing touchdowns. Although Trace McSorley only threw for 160 yards passing, he made plays when the team needed it. McSorley was constantly fighting for extra yards on runs and it payed off especially on third down. The Nittany Lions finished the game 9/11 on third down attempts. Juwan Johnson had his best game of the season. Despite early struggles, Johnson had four receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown. Overall, the offense looks to be almost in top form heading in to the Penn State’s first big test next week against Ohio State.
The first half defensively for the Nittany Lions was a mess, as they allowing 17 points to Illinois. The defense allowed many big runs by Illinois’ running backs, most notably a 51-yard run by Reggie Corbin that resulted in a touchdown by the Fighting Illini. Despite the shakey first half, the Nittany Lions’ defense responded in the second half only allowing seven points and forcing two interceptions. Jan Johnson and Eli Brooks recorded the interceptions as the defense played one of their better halves this season. The NIttany Lions had the potential to play at an extremely high level; we have seen it in various instances throughout the season. Consistency and discipline should be the focus for the Penn State defense heading in to their next matchup with Ohio State.
Special Teams: C+
Even though Penn State did not allow any 100-yard kickoff returns or onside kicks like they have in previous weeks this season, the special teams did not play perfectly. Most notably Jake Pinegar missed a 44-yard field goal in the first half that could have expanded The Nittany Lions’ lead at the time. Also the Penn State was not able to return the ball as well as they have been able to in past weeks. KJ Hamler was only able to return one kickoff for 12 yards and DeAndre Thompkins returned two punts with his longest return being 22 yards. Field goals and explosive plays off the return have to be there if Penn State wants a chance to beat Ohio State next week.
James Franklin eluded to the fact that Penn State has not been able to put a complete game together this entire season. This is evident, many times this season Penn State will run away with games in a half or in a quarter, but has not been able to play an entire game at that level. This was clearer than ever this week as Penn State allowed 17 straight points to Illinois this week, allowing them to have the lead at one point early in the third quarter.
Going in to Ohio State next week, Penn State needs to find a way to play their best football the entire game and not just for certain stretches throughout it. James Franklin and the rest of his coaching staff needs to find a way to get a consistent effort from the Nittany Lions in all areas if they want any chance of winning the game.
Nicholas Prince is a Freshman majoring in Broadcast Journalism, to contact him email firstname.lastname@example.org.