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.)