Five Things We Learned: Illinois
Despite not having the lead at one point during the second half, No. 10 Penn State was able to run away with the road victory by defeating Illinois 63-24.
The Nittany Lions were hitting on all cylinders on the offensive side of the ball, scoring 42 unanswered points en route to the victory. They will look to keep the momentum going as they head back to University Park next Saturday to host No. 4 Ohio State. That being said, here are the five things we learned we learned from the Illinois game:
1. Miles Sanders is capable of taking over games
Perhaps no player shined more than junior running back Miles Sanders during the Nittany Lions’ victory. He had himself a career game, rushing for 200 yards and tallying up three touchdowns in the process. His ability to run in between the tackles, combined with the shiftiness and downfield acceleration he displayed makes him one of the premiere running backs in the Big Ten. It’s also worth noting that the running game as a whole was dominant, as the Nittany Lions finished with 387 yards on the ground. Expect the team to keep feeding Sanders the ball as conference play continues.
2. The front seven played with toughness
Even though the Fighting Illini finishing with 411 total yards on offense, the Nittany Lions’ front seven was stout and remained composed throughout the duration of the game. The running back duo consisting of junior Reggie Corbin and sophomore Mike Epstein wasn’t completely shut out of the game, but the front seven was able to prevent them from entirely taking over. The defensive line was able to collapse the pocket and slow down the runners from gaining momentum in the backfield, whereas the linebacker group covered a lot of ground and wrapped up ball-carriers in open space. While there’s still room for improvement for the run defense, tonight’s performance proved that the unit is trending up.
3. Unforced penalties prevented offensive progress
Whether it was illegal formation by receivers, or false starts by the offensive line, the dead ball penalties committed throughout the game drained the momentum out of promising drives for the Nittany Lions. Eight penalties were called against them, resulting in the loss of 72 yards. While this doesn’t seem too damaging, clever play designs such as the Sanders’s pass to senior quarterback Trace McSorley shouldn’t be called back because someone lined up in the wrong spot. If the Nittany Lions are to keep their undefeated streak alive, this area must be cleaned up before their next game against the Buckeyes.
4. Penn State played sluggish during scoring droughts
The final score shows that the Nittany Lions were able to get their act together and keep the offense rolling. Although they concluded the game by scoring a touchdown on six consecutive drives, it’s easy to forget that the Nittany Lions left the door open for the Fighting Illini to claw their way back into the game at the end of the first half. The final two offensive drives in the first half for the Nittany Lions resulted in a punt and interception. The Fighting Illini took a 24-21 lead early in the third quarter, which forced the Nittany Lions to play with a sense of urgency. That being said, the Nittany Lions can’t afford to be down late in games once they face better competition.
5. Penn State was able to prevail on third down
Third down efficiency was the arguably the key factor for the Nittany Lions’ success. The offense converted nine out of 11 times on third down, keeping the drives alive and opening up scoring opportunities. Flipping it over to the defense, the Nittany Lions held the Fighting Illini to only four successful third-down conversions on 12 attempts. The ability to win the “third down battle” will be pivotal for future conference games.
Hunter Pitcoff is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.