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PSU not complete team, but good when it gets rolling

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Jahan Dotson

There’s always a lot to like and not like during a football game. This is my comprehensive list of things I liked and did not like, starting with the most important story lines of the game, then going through the contest from the beginning.

Like: Penn State is not a 60-minute team. It’s just not. Putting together a strong game from start to finish is not this team’s forte, and it has hurt the squad this season. However, when the Nittany Lions do get rolling, they have proven that they can be really, really good on both sides of the ball for long stretches. We saw it in the second half against Michigan State last week, with PSU outscoring the Spartans, 29-3. And we saw it again Saturday night, as PSU ran off 42 straight points against Illinois after falling behind 21-14.

Like: We saw the craziest first quarter I can remember for Penn State, with the score tied at 21 after numerous big plays. If you like offense and scoring, the first quarter was extremely entertaining.

Don’t like: If you like defense and good tackling, the first quarter was embarrassing for both sides. Penn State’s defense was atrocious in the first quarter, giving up 21 points and 199 yards of offense. To Illinois. Yikes. The Illini gave up a 75-yard TD pass and 100-yard kickoff return for a score. It was ugly all around for the defenders.

Like: In the second quarter, though, PSU’s defense started to click. It shut out the Illini and held them to only 30 yards in the quarter. That really set the tone for the rest of the game, as PSU’s defense dominated the rest of the way. Illinois had 199 yards in the first quarter, and only 74 for the rest of the game.

Like: Well, that was fast. Penn State scored a 75-yard TD on the first play from scrimmage as Sean Clifford hit Jahan Dotson in the left flat, Dotson turned in to avoid a tackle attempt and was off to the races.

Like: After Illinois scored to tie it at 7, Lamont Wade had a spectacular 100-yard kickoff return for a TD to put PSU right back on top.

Don’t like: Wade didn’t come back in the game the rest of the first half after his TD return.

Like: Dotson had another long TD as he took a short pass to the right and raced for a 70-yard score late in the first half. That gave him 183 yards receiving in the half, just 33 shy of Deon Butler’s single-game record of 216. Dotson didn’t need to do much in the second half finished with 189 yards receiving.

FIRST QUARTER

Don’t like: Brandon Smith whiffed on a tackle attempt of Isaiah Williams on Illinois’ first drive, allowing the QB to scramble for a first down on third-and-9. The Illini eventually scored.

Like: Keaton Ellis picked off Williams on the very next play, the first career INT for the State College native. It was a terrible pass over the middle by the QB, with Ellis the only one in sight and picking it off with a diving grab.

Don’t like: Turnover Sean Clifford showed up again on the very next play as he was hit and fumbled on a keeper, with Illinois recovering at the PSU 15.

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Don’t like: After Wade’s kickoff return for a TD, on Illinois’ next play, Isaiah Williams raced 64 yards to the PSU 11, and the Illini scored two plays later to tie it at 14 with 9:50 left in the first quarter.

Don’t like: Illinois took the lead with a 38-yard TD pass, as TE Daniel Barker split a pair of tacklers on his way to the end zone. Just very, very poor tackling early on by PSU.

Don’t like: Penn State’s defense embarrassed itself early in the game, getting shredded by Illinois for 198 yards in the first 8:50. The tackling was atrocious, and the Lions kept leaving the middle of the field open for QB keepers.

SECOND QUARTER

Like: Penn State’s defense turned things around, shutting out the Illini in the quarter.

Like: Caziah Holmes scored the first TD of his career on a 3-yard run that gave PSU a 28-21 lead. Holmes has kind of been forgotten since Keyvone Lee has turned in such a strong freshman season, so it’s good to see him get some opportunities to keep his confidence up.

Like: Cam Sullivan-Brown made a nice catch for 14 yards to convert a third-and-7 late in the half. It’s been a tough season for Sullivan-Brown with little production and lots of missed time, but that was a nice moment for him.

Don’t like: Jake Pinegar missed a 35-yard field goal on the final play of the first half.

THIRD QUARTER

Like: Penn State’s defense continued to control the Illini, including when they took over at the PSU 45 after a punt early in the quarter. Illinois picked up one first down but was stuffed after that, including getting stopped on fourth-and-10 at the 33 when Antonio Shelton crushed Williams and forced a fumble.

Don’t like: The offense was in cruise control for most of the quarter, not pushing the envelope much with the game in hand.

Like: The Lions did put together a good drive late in the quarter, and lo and behold, the coaches let Will Levis throw the ball in what looked like a sure running situation. PSU had fourth-and-1 at the 7, and Levis lofted a screen pass to TE Brenton Strange, who leaped his way into the end zone.

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Written By

Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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