Penn State Falls To Illinois, 16-14
Penn State took the field today riding the momentum of bowl eligibility, and took on a 4-6 Illinois that has only won two Big Ten games in the last three years. On paper, Penn State should have emerged from this one victorious. If only that was the case.
The Nittany Lions opened up the game in the drivers seat, capping off a beautiful nine play, 52 yard drive with an 18 yard strike from Christian Hackenberg to Chris Godwin in the corner of the end zone. After that, Penn State’s special teams unit provided some early excitement, turning a fake punt into a 32 yard gain. The big play didn’t work in the Nittany Lions’ favor, however, as a bobbled snap by holder Chris Gulla forced the Nittany Lions to turn the ball over on downs.
On the other end, Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt was rendered ineffective for most of the first half, as he was unable to muster anything offensively for the Illini. Lunt, who finished the day 8-17 for only 58 yards, was replaced by senior Riley O’Toole in the second quarter.
Illinois head coach Tim Beckman’s switch at quarterback proved effective, as O’Toole was much more of a threat given his ability as a runner. O’Toole marched the Illini down the field, finishing the drive with a one yard floater to tight end Matt LaCosse, evening up the score at 7-7 just before half.
After trading punts for most of the third quarter, Illinois was finally able to jump ahead thanks to a 38 yard field goal from sophomore kicker David Reisner, putting the Illini up by three.
Akeel Lynch was the lone offensive bright spot today, as he again flashed his big play ability on a beautiful 47 yard run, putting the Nittany Lions up 14-10. Questionable playcalling and lack of execution plagued the Nittany Lions throughout most of the game, as Penn State routinely failed to capitalize on drives. After yet another Penn State punt, Illinois was able to cut the lead to one after ending an 11 play, 58 yard fourth quarter drive with yet another field goal, making the score 14-13.
The game’s turning point came late in the fourth quarter, after Christian Hackenberg was unable to pick up a first down on a rollout, bringing up a fourth and short situation in Penn State territory. Rather than going for it, James Franklin opted to punt, trusting his defense to hold the Illini.
“Our defense has been playing well all year long,” said Franklin. “You punt the ball and make them earn it.”
Two big completions later, O’Toole and the Illinois offense were well within striking distance.
After running the clock down to eight seconds, David Reisner would play the role of hero, hitting a 36 yard field goal to put Illinois ahead 16-14. With no timeouts, and 80 yards to go, a hail mary was Penn State’s last chance to try and win the game. That would not be the case, as a hook and ladder style play failed miserably, and ended the game. After entering the game as favorites to win, Penn State did little to justify that label, looking listless and essentially playing not to lose.
“Not a good day. I didn’t do a good enough job,” said Franklin after the game. “We’ve probably been asking for this all year long with the way we’ve been playing, and it finally caught up to us.”
The loss gives Penn State a 6-5 record, which does nothing to help the team’s case for a more prestigious bowl. The loss also puts the Nittany Lions at 2-5 in the Big Ten, giving the team the same conference record as Tim Beckman’s Illinois squad.
Penn State will close the regular season out on Saturday, Nov. 29 at 3:30 p.m. against the Michigan State Spartans.