It looked as if Penn State (5-3, 2-2 B1G) was about to lay an egg, but in the end, a timely opportunistic interception by Ryan Keiser concluded a game that frequently looked like no one wanted to win. Illinois (3-5, 0-4 B1G) wound up with the short end of the stick in a game that PSU was supposed to win handily but which boiled down to the last gasp in overtime. The final score was 24-17.
What stands out is that in spite of blowing a 14-3 first half lead and being down 17-14, these guys came back to tie the game in the waning minutes of regulation and eventually win in overtime. They didn’t fold their tent and go home early. That deserves mention.
Also warranting mention was a career effort by Bill Belton, who ran for 201 yards and a touchdown. Illinois has a porous run defense. O’Brien could have gotten pass happy as he did in the losing effort against Indiana, but he restrained himself, resorting to a balanced attack in which Hackenberg threw only 32 (not 55) times. Zach Zwinak made a few appearances after last weeks fumble and dressing down by O’Brien, and wound up with six carries for 25 yards. The offensive line did its job against the notably weak Illinois run defense.
Belton did manage a heart attack inducing fumble on what should have been a scoring play. However, he apparently avoided the Port Matilda exile imposed upon Zwinak last week by O’Brien.
Hackenberg, meanwhile, completed 20 of 32 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown. Not a bad day overall, especially inasmuch as that touchdown completion to Kyle Carter in overtime wound up winning the game.
Tim Beckman’s crappy coaching probably lost the game for the Illini, who gained 411 yards, of which 321 were aerial. At the game’s outset, it appeared as if Beckman’s boys had studied and absorbed the Ohio State game, as Nathan Scheelhaase employed a collection of swing passes and bubble screens to move the ball effectively against an inept Penn State defense. Scheelhaase finished the day 33-52 with one touchdown and two interceptions, the second of which was the crucial, game ending overtime snag by Keiser. Scheelhaase also had 8 carries for 35 yards.
Alas, Penn State improved only slightly on its putrid third down performance this year, converting only eight of eighteen. On da udder hand, they converted two of three fourth down opportunities.
What can we glean from this victory? Well, as I mentioned above, the boys can fight hard when the tide is carrying them out to sea, which is indeed something, alright. But after seeing how Moo U. beat up on Illinois last week and again beat up on Michigan yesterday, the defects in the Nittany Lions’ game are made glaringly obvious by comparison. If they were a competitive team, a team worthy of inclusion in discussions about what might have been, this game would have been no contest at all; instead, it required last second heroics. So it’s a bit of an unsettling win for the Sanguinarians, no doubt, but still a win, and moreover, one that should empower enough confidence within the squad to produce a winning record this year.
Elsewhere in the B1G, Moo U. and Ohio State seem to be the only teams playing at levels worthy of a post-season. Michigan State cleaned Michigan’s clock 29-6, while OSU, um, cruised past nonexistent Purdue 56-0. (Either Purdue put up more of a fight than did Penn State last week or Urbz took his foot off the gas because the Bucks managed only 640 yards and 30 first downs. Just kidding — Purdue is truly pitiful.) Wisconsin overcame a slow start to whip Iowa 28-9. Nebraska needed a Hail Mary to beat abysmal Northwestern 27-24. Northwestern, Purdue, and Illinois still do not have a B1G victory this year. Finally, a fortuitous fumble recovery enabled PSU’s next opponent, Minnesota, to triumph over Indiana, 42-39.
Finally, in the biggest game of the day on the national scene, stepping-stone first tier wannabes #3 Florida State and #7 Miami battled it out, but it proved not to be much of a battle as FSU won handily 41-14. The Seminoles are for real; the Hurricanes are for shit (and whoever designed that mascot costume apparently has never seen a real ibis).
OK, time to set the clocks.