Penn State 39, Illinois 0
So, who knew that the boys had it in them to pitch a shutout while scoring 39 points against a halfway decent defense, already? I know I didn’t. The Penn State Nittany Lions (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) defeated the Illinois Formerly Fighting Illini (4-4, 1-3 Big Ten) by the score of 39 to zip. No hostages were taken.
“A” grades throughout for the Nittany Lions, with the exception of special teams. While there were flaws, they weren’t sufficient to detract from the enjoyment of this rout. Even without Tim Beckman or Ron Zook, there is always something supremely satisfying about kicking the shit out of Illinois.
John Donovan gets a reprieve for a while, for producing a competent game plan. And the much maligned offensive unit put it all together for this one. Certainly, the move to play Angelo Mangiro and Wendy Laurent together on the O-line was an excellent idea. The Five Traffic Cones seemed motorized, giving Christian Hackenberg reasonable time to operate, and boy, did he operate!
Hack’s line was 21-29 for 266 yards with two touchdowns. His primo target was magic man Chris Godwin, with 7 receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown. Moreover, to add insult to Illinois injury, the Nittany Lions played “in yo face” with the Illini defense in the third quarter from their 14 yard-line while leading 15-0, by virtue of Nick Scott tossing a halfback option pass back to Hack for a touchdown.
The PSU running attack was full throttle, even as Illinois stacked the box. Saquon Barkley had 20 carries for 84 yards and a touchdown. Mark Allen added two carries for 23 yards and a touchdown. Saquon’s vaulting touchdown run early in the fourth quarter was highlight reel material that shows how special this kid is. I could watch that many more times and smile.
Back to the Five Motorized Traffic Cones, I watched Angelo Mangiro throw a textbook trap block from his left guard position that suggests this present group of starters should continue. While they still allowed three sacks and seven TFLs, even our Colossus of Rhodes, Paris Palmer, seems to be improving a bit, so who knows? Maybe Hack’s 3+ average sacks per game will eventually drop back to a sane level.
By the way, perhaps because he’s gaining some confidence, Hack looked pretty good trying to elude sacks on his own, actually using the pocket and his feet. He is not quite up to Roethlisberger level, but still, a big improvement.
The defense obviously shone, registering nine tackles for loss and four sacks. They allowed only 37 net yards rushing and 130 yards passing for 167 yards, compared to Penn State’s 400. Jason Cabinda was the standout with seven tackles, but the entire defense did a great job. Freshman linebacker Troy Reeder snagged a Wes Lunt pass and ran the interception back 44 yards to the Illini 6, setting up another touchdown. Yeah, the defense was on steroids (figuratively speaking, of course). Wes Lunt looked so bad that he was pulled in the second half.
Now, then. Special teams suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. Punting was a little better, especially compared with Illinois’ inept punting game, but Joey “Big Toe” Julius had two blocked extra points. His trajectory is criminally low, so this is bound to happen more unless and until he fixes it. Can he? I dunno. His day ended when freshman Tyler Davis was inserted into the game. Davis made 42- and 28-yard field goals plus three extra points.
Penn State almost doubled up on Illinois with 23 first downs to the Illini’s 12. The Nittany Lions dominated time of possession 33:42 to 26:18.
Third down conversions were a source of frustration again, as the Lions converted only five of thirteen. But all’s well that ends well.
This win puts me in a good frame of mind for Northwestern, about which I’m somewhat less worried, but on the other hand, it’s a noon start on the road. Northwestern opened as a two-point favorite.
(I’ll be back soon with a preview and prediction of the Northwestern game. In the meanwhile, I’m smiling about this big win!)