Illinois 20, Penn State 18 (27 OT)
It was a shitty day in University Park in more ways than one. Formerly #7 Penn State (5-2, 2-2 B10) went down in ignominious Homecoming defeat to Lowly Illinois (3-5, 2-3 B10), 20-18, requiring countless overtimes to rub it in even more.
Stats go out the window in this latest equivalent of the 2004 Iowa vs. Penn State 6-4 Homecoming Tragedy. The main new notable absence was the Penn State rushing defense. (We had already given up on the rushing offense). Despite several self-pedal extremity directed cannonballs by the Illinois offense, the Formerly Fighting Illini outlasted a worn-out (albeit never present) PSU defense to ultimately prevail. I lost count of the so-called overtimes, which by current NCAA rules take on the characteristic of an NHL shootout after a while. Penn State’s denouement was brutal, telling, and final.
Sanguinarians may now go into hiding. For them, the season, which held so much promise, is over. Welcome to 2004.
I ought to mention (again) that what we perceived to be the strength of this Nittany Lions 2021 Edition was its defense, which failed miserably in this losing effort, surrendering 395 yards. All but 38 of them were gained on the ground by a confident Illinois offense with a surprisingly capable offensive line. Well, they certainly looked capable against our inept front seven. Credit is due to Chase Brown, with 33 carries for 223 yards and a touchdown, and Josh McCray with 24 for 142, The absence of P. J. Mustipher no doubt contributed to the defensive debacle.
Penn State’s ineffectual offense, led by injured first-string QB Sean Clifford, produced only 227 yards, with merely 62 due to the weekly mostly absent running game. Clifford was 19-34 for 165 yards and a touchdown. The Lions converted a putrid 4 of 17 third down attempts, which is why the time of possession was skewed so heavily in favor of the Illini, 36 minutes to 24.
They Tried to Give It to Us!
Illinois couldn’t have tried much harder to throw the game to Penn State, with two fumbles lost and one interception. Penn State, in its offensive ineptitude, squandered those opportunities. And while Illinois was moved backward fifty yards by four penalties, Penn State had seven penalties for eighty-one yards. All aspects of the Nittany Lions’ game suuuuuuucked.
A big question in the minds of many Penn State fans is, “Why play Clifford?” He was clearly still nursing painful ribs, which would only be exacerbated by getting roughed up as the game progressed. His playbook was clearly limited in the running department, where he lost a net 28 yards, but his passing was off the mark, too. He might have been able to throw in no-contact drills during the week, but in a real game, chances were good that he would reinjure himself as he took hits. I don’t understand why we didn’t see one or both of the backups. This, after all, was the last opportunity for them to get game reps before the level of competition increases.
Disappointment is My Closest Friend
The Franklin Doctrine of concentrating on going 1-0 “this week” didn’t work. Whether it sacrificed next week, we’ll never know. How much worse would PSU have done with Roberson at the helm? We’ll never know. Of course, had the Lions won with Clifford, playing him would have been regarded as brilliant, and our disappointment would have been postponed until next week.
Number Seven? Bye bye! PSU doesn’t belong in the Top 25. No running game. Now, no running defense. A severely compromised starting quarterback and incapable backups. The season is hereby declared a mess.
From this point looking forward, I see no guaranteed wins. Not even Rutgers. I’m not saying they will all be losses, but the handwriting is on the wall for what appears to be yet another mediocre season. The 11-2 predictions at season’s outset are now by the boards. We’ll have the guaranteed loss next week to tOSU and at least one more. Maybe more. If we’re lucky, the post season will be played in a white porcelain bowl with running water and toilet paper close by. Detroit? New York? Awww, shit. Too soon to speculate on that.
I know what Paterno used to say: “You’re never as good as you think you are when you win, and you’re never as bad as you think you are when you lose.” But to lose like this before homecoming crowd who expected the football equivalent of a walkover is too painful for such poignant Paternoistic platitudes.
For the few Penn State fans who harbored anxiety over James Franklin leaving for USC or perhaps LSU, take heart! After this abortion, they won’t want him.
(I’ll be back when I recover, with an overview of our third straight loss.)
Big Al says
At the beginning of this season, when most impartial football “experts” were forecasting an 8-4 season for Penn State, I disagreed. I thought that the quarterback play would determine the season’s outcome and that State would finish either 10-2 or 6-6 – with little chance of anything in between. But I never imagined that a single play would determine the Kitties fate.
By giving in to his fantasy of winning the B1G title, Franklin has sacrificed the rest of this year and probably any playing future that Clifford may have had. Clifford should have been benched until healed. It would probably have meant playing the back ups against Illinois and Ohio State and losing both games, but State would have had a realistic chance of winning the rest of the games. Because of that shortsighted, selfish decison, the Kitties now have zero chance of beating tOSU, Michigan, and Moo U and will be lucky to win one of the games with Maryland and Rutgers.
One other observation. Illinois isn’t as bad a team as the Sanguinarians think it is (and might wind up with as many wins as State does) Their talent is roughly comparable to Maryland, Rutgers, and Northwestern. Those are all teams that are significantly less talented than Penn State and teams that the Kitties should be able to beat – but they are not FCS level teams like Kansas, Vanderbilt, and Arizona. And, Burt’s seven man offensive line might be just the innovation that signals the beginning of the end of the spread offense era.
K. John says
“Franklin has sacrificed the rest of this year and probably any playing future that Clifford may have had.”
This should not surprise anyone. CJF is about CJF. You can tell by the way he handles press conferences after losses.
The Nittany Turkey says
No surprise here. I’m hunkered down for the high-profile decommits.
The Nittany Turkey says
I must agree that Illinois is no longer the dregs of the Big Ten. The offensive line and the running backs were particularly effextive; Sitkowski, not so much, but when you get a Rutgers QB, you get a piece of Rutgers.
You did not comment on the defensive breakdown that enabled the Illinois running game. I’d like to think that Mustipher was not the difference between a competent run defense and the garbage we saw on Saturday. Everybody in the stands knew Illinois would run most of the time, but Pry had no solution. Missed tackles by the front seven abounded, placing the burden on the secondary (after a gain was already assured).
Like you, I cannot fathom any reason for playing Clifford other than Franklin’s ego trip. It was certainly premature, and it might well have effectively thrown away the season. Even if Roberson and Veilleux weren’t ready, they should have both seen playing time in the Illinois game. What happens when we need a backup? They’ll still be unready to compete. And we WILL need them. If Clifford plays against tOSU, he’s likely to reinjure his ribs. A decent backup quarterback is essential — unless they’re willing to stake the season on Clifford’s health, like they have apparently done.
I watched part of tOSU vs. Indiana. I think I can safely conclude that it will be over by halftime on Saturday. The secondary hasn’t seen a receiver like Olave yet this season.
Big Al says
Re the defensive ineptitude, Sky view wasn’t available, so I can’t be sure, but it appeared that State’s linebackers couldn’t shed their blocks and/or were taking bad angles. The talking heads said that Burt benched his tight ends and played seven interior lineman most of the time, so that might explain why State’s front seven weren’t making tackles. Going with seven interior lineman could be a genius move to screw up modern defenses that use speedy but undersized linebackers to stop the spread. Maybe CJF should consider using that formation given how useless State’s tight ends have been this year, but State probably doesn’t have 7 competent interior lineman.
Based on what I saw in both our and tOSUs games, Clifford isn’t going to make it to half time if he starts against the Schmuckeyes. Their DL is starting to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks – they really beat up Indiana’s qbs. And Clifford isn’t mobile enough to avoid their rush
The Nittany Turkey says
When I last looked at the spread for the Schmuckeyes, they were favored by 12 at home with an o/u of 60. Man, I just don’t see it. With our Lion offense having come down with feline leukemia, the score might be roughly the same as the hurt tOSU put on the Hoosiers — only they see PSU on their own turf, so it could be worse, no matter which of the three QBs play.
That O-Line of Bielema’s non-dumbass coaching was very effective. I hope some coaches take notice around the league. We knew that the FFI could run but we didn’t know they would run all over the hapless kitties. Those seven linemen were huge, too.
I think tOSU can achieve balance so they won’t sell out on making the run work. They’ll let their five competent linemen get the run going without the need for extra guys. Their receiving talent is there waiting for the easy pickings. Do you think our secondary is getting respect by the gamblers? I don’t think they’ve seen anyone quite like Olave yet.
Agreed that our tight ends aren’t worth a shit. Can’t catch, can’t block. We need the ghost of John McCay to lay some saracasm on them. Or maybe not. They know they suck.
It was the 17th anniversary of the 6 to 4 loss to Iowa. No bueno!
The Nittany Turkey says
That is a significant coincidence — or maybe it is no coincidence. Perhaps St. Joe pulled some strings to vindicate his own 6-4 homecoming loss exactly seventeen years ago. His 2004 offense was equally incompetent. It was so bad that a younger Kirk Ferentz deliberately took a safety with a slim, 6-2 lead because he knew that the PSU offense couldn’t do shit with the ball in its hands. In this year’s Reprise of Incompetence, Franklin chose to go to the run for several of those two-point tries in the 27 overtimes. All Bret Bielema had to do was wait him out, knowing that Illinois would eventually score on the incompetent Penn State defense, which the Illini offensive line had been pushing around all day.