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!)
Paris Palmer is still the weakest link.The guy has ZERO lateral movement. For the life of me I couldn’t understand why they continued to play him at left tackle until I watched Christian Hackenberg stepping up in the pocket to buy himself more time. I think Donovan must be game planning that the defensive end will run wide around Palmer since he has no way of blocking someone if he has to move side to side. It seemed to work beautifully as long has Hackenberg didn’t hold the ball too long.
The Nittany Turkey says
I think you hit the nail on the head. Palmer occupies a lot of space that might slow down a pass rusher who has to detour around his incredible hulk, but that’s about as far as it goes. A Donovan Smith, he ain’t.
NT, just to set the record straight, Scott did not take a direct snap when he threw the ball to Hack. Hack took the snap pitched the ball to Scott who then surprised us all by completing the pass to Hackenberg.
The Nittany Turkey says
My bad. Writing in a hurry after a Steelers loss that didn’t need to be a loss leads to sloppy errors. I’ll fix it.
Much obliged for the heads-up.
Big Al says
According to my rule of threes, the Lions were due for a good game. And they played their best game of the Franklin era. But I’m not ready to think the Improvement is permanent. For one thing, Illinois’ offense was a perfect foil for our defense – an immobile quarterback with no running attack and only one semi competent receiver. Last year, State shut Lunt down completely but then got (O) Tooled by a mobile quarterback. .In addition, Illinois defense used a passive bend but break scheme and not the “pack the box press cover zero” approach that State struggles with.
If the rule of three continues, the next good game will be Moo U. And a shitty or mediocre performance is on tap for Northwestern.