Penn State Shutouts Illinois 39-0, Remain Perfect At Home

Story posted October 31, 2015 in Sports, CommRadio by Mandy Bell

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Nittany Lions shut out the Fighting Illini 39-0 in their first shutout since 2008 and most dominating performance of the season. 

Quarterback Christian Hackenberg started the first touchdown drive of the day by stepping up in the pocket to find DeAndre Thompkins for a 31-yard pass.  After a pass to Saquon Barkley for 19 yards, Hackenberg found Chris Godwin in the back of the end zone to put the Penn State (7-2, 4-1 B1G) up 6-0.

“Hack was awesome today,” head coach James Franklin said. “He had a bunch of big throws.”

Illinois (4-4, 1-3 B1G) didn’t have possession of the ball long after that touchdown, as linebacker Troy Reeder intercepted Wes Lunt’s pass for 44 yards to put the Penn State offense on Illinois’ 6 yard line.  Hackenberg hit Geno Lewis on the first play of the drive for a 6-yard touchdown pass to put the Nittany Lions up 12-0.

“I started to smell the end zone, but that guy was moving pretty good,” Reeder said.  “It took me back to my high school days. I haven’t carried a ball in a long time.”

Penn State kicker Joey Julius could not get the job done for the Nittany Lions as both of his extra point attempts were kicked low and blocked.  Head coach James Franklin turned to Tyler Davis at the end of the second quarter to kick a 42-yard field goal that increased Penn State’s lead to 15-0. 

Koa Farmer started the second half for Penn State with a 57-yard kick return to the Illinois 27-yard line.  After three completed passes, Penn State turned to its bag of tricks and ran a halfback option pass.  Hackenberg pitched the ball back to Nick Scott who threw to a wide-open Hackenberg down the left sideline for a 14-yard touchdown completion.  Davis added the extra point to make the score 22-0.

“’I’ve been playing quarterback ever since high school so that’s really a play they had tagged for me,” Scott said.  “I was a little worried I was going to underthrow it. That’s why I put it right at him.”

Hackenberg had a standout performance.  He was 21-29 for 266 yards and two touchdowns and one touchdown reception.

 “My mindset was practice, practice, practice,” Hackenberg said. “You do it every day, so just go out an execute and continue doing what we need to do to be efficient.”

Davis quickly added another three points with a successful 28-yard field goal kick with four minutes remaining in the third quarter. 

Penn State did not stop there.  Hackenberg hit Godwin and Mike Gesicki for consecutive completions before Saquon Barkley took the spotlight with yet another highlight-reel touchdown run to increase the Nittany Lions’ lead to 32-0.

“You have the O-line stepping up, that takes pressure off of you,” Hackenberg said.  “It makes Saquon’s job easier, it makes my job easier, it makes everyone’s job easier.”

With the majority of the Penn State’s starters on the sideline, the second string added more damage when running back Mark Allen scored a 20-yard touchdown run to put the Fighting Illini away, 39-0.

The Penn State defense pitched a shutout against the Fighting Illini.  Illinois was only able to gain 37 rushing yards and the defense put heavy pressure on Lunt the entire game.   

“We wear people down with our pass rush.  That’s because we rotate different guys to keep them fresh.  That’s because in spots like Carl Nassib, we’re big and physical. He’s a 275-pound defensive end who brings it every play,” Franklin said.

“Staying positive works.  We are getting better,” Franklin said.

Penn State will travel to Northwestern next weekend with a kickoff time that is yet to be determined, but ComRadio will have the call live from Ryan Field in Illinois.

Mandy Bell is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism.  To contact her email amb6857@psu.edu.