Five Things We Learned: Penn State vs. Illinois

Story posted November 2, 2015 in Sports, CommRadio by Ryan Berti

From power rangers to James Franklin impersonators, costumed fans strolled into Beaver Stadium on Halloween expecting a competitive duel between two Big Ten teams. Instead, they witnessed a one-sided blowout that will likely haunt the dreams of the Fighting Illini. Penn State (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) earned its first shutout of the season by walking away with a 39-0 victory.

Illinois (4-4, 1-3 B1G) struggled to move the ball while the Penn State defense thrived and set the tone for the offense, which scored its highest point-total of the season. Here are a few things the Penn State faithful can take away from Saturday’s rout:

1. Zero is a defense’s favorite number.
This weekend, the Penn State defense recorded its first shutout since 2013 and its first in the Big Ten since 2009. By the numbers, the defense controlled the game from start to finish and dominated the Fighting Illini in every facet.

The Nittany Lions limited the Illini to just 167 yards of total offense, 12 first downs and an average of 2.4 yards per play during the contest.

A big part of their success occurred in the third quarter. In those 15 minutes, Illinois lost yardage, earning negative 6 yards in three drives. The team also had a stretch of four of five drives in which they ended up behind where they had started.

Linebacker Troy Reeder also picked off the first pass of his career, returning it for 44 yards to the 5 yard line and setting up a Penn State touchdown.

Just looking at the punting yardage sums up the game, where Illinois punter Ryan Frain sent the ball 497 yards on 12 kicks, nearly tripling the total yardage gained by his team’s offense.
Penn State’s entire team was firing on all cylinders Saturday, but it all started with the defense’s dominance.

2. Jumpman, Jumpman, Jumpman…
Saquon Barkley is up to something. Once again, the freshman phenom showcased his athleticism and blew up the internet when he defied gravity and hurdled into the end zone for his only score of the day.

Barkley has been delivering electrifying plays all season, but this was one of the human highlight-reels biggest plays to date. It gave him his fifth score of the year and 84 yards on the day, as he once again led the Lions in rushing.

The running back continues to shine as a true-freshman, as he now averages 102 yards a game and is on pace to finish the season with 1,023 yards.

It also appears the timeshare between Barkley and Lynch has come to an end, for the redshirt junior did not find the field until garbage time with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game.
Now as the sole lead back, Barkley looks to finish off the season strong and carry with him big expectations into the offseason.

3. Kicking is a pretty good problem to have.
For the second game this year, “Big Toe” Joey Julius missed two extra points. While the big man has had a stellar season so far and is a crowd favorite, his role as the starting kicker may be slipping away.

Julius was once again relieved of his duties by former walk-on Tyler Davis after both PAT attempts were blocked. Davis took over as the team’s placekicker for the remainder of the game, making all three of his extra-point attempts as well as two field goals.

Davis has replaced Julius for field goals before, but it was a first when he also took over the duties of kickoffs. Julius had sent a kickoff out of bounds, making it the third game in the last four weeks in which he has done so. Davis also sent one out of bounds, but remained in until the game’s end.
Coach Franklin has stood behind Julius before when issues have come up, but with Davis thriving and Julius missing chip-shots, a change could lie in the future.

Regardless, considering the problems Penn State has faced this season thus far, including injury issues and ineffective play-calling, leaving a game with the kicker situation being the only major concern is something the team can live with.

4. Penalties kill
Penalties are the ultimate drive-killer in football and they are what led the Illini to their doom in Happy Valley.

Flags showered across the Illinois side of the field all game, and like a plague they slowly ate away at any offensive success the team happened to have. Ultimately, it ended up being the difference.

Heading into halftime, Penn State only boasted 21 more total yards of offense, one more first down and had less than a minute more of total possession. The score was 15-0 with Penn State leading.

Why?

Illinois had seven penalties for a total of 55 yards. Penn State had zero.

In the end, penalties were not the only reason why Illinois lost, but Penn State’s penalty yardage was less than half of the Illini’s, and it definitely translated into the game’s final score.

5. Franklin faces worst nightmare: The Pooch Punt
Fool Penn State once, shame on you. Fool Penn State twice, shame on Franklin. Fool Penn State three times, shame on the entire coaching staff.

Penn State’s coaching staff did a lot of things right on Saturday; they called a balanced offense, made the Illinois offense non-existent and took out their starters instead of leaving them in during a blowout.

Yet, one thing was still too much for head coach James Franklin and his sideline to comprehend: The pooch punt.

In the first quarter, James Franklin burned two consecutive timeouts on an Illinois 4th-and-9 situation. Illinois was out of field goal range but past midfield and had brought in their backup quarterback Chayce Crouch in place of the punt squad to fool the Nittany Lion defense.
After outsmarting Franklin’s staff, they brought in their punter Ryan Frain in an attempt to pin the Lions deep.

The same thing occurred at the end of the first half. With the clock stopped on the Penn State 40-yard line, Illinois brought their pooch-punt unit back out on 4th-and-17, forcing the confused defense to burn its final timeout of the half. Frain then pinned the Lions on their own five-yard line, where they ran out the clock to end the half.

Luckily for the coach, those timeouts were not ever needed, but that trend is not likely to continue since Penn State’s final three opponents all are currently ranked or have been at some time during the season. Gaffs on the coaching end could hurt the Lions in crunch time late in these crucial games.

 

Ryan Berti is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email him at ryanpberti@gmail.com or follow him on twitter: @RBirdman7.