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Penn State Continues Second-Half Dominance Against Illinois

It probably sounds like a cliché at this point, but Penn State really is a second-half team. In fact, Penn State has outscored its opponents 114-7 over the past three games. 

At halftime of the Friday clash in Champaign, Penn State led just 21-17. The Nittany Lions jumped out to a 21-7 lead with 8:11 remaining in the half, but the Illini would get ten points back before the half concluded. Lovie Smith’s squad seemed to have all of the momentum going into the half and some mistakes, like an interception and a fumble, had allowed the Illini to climb back into the game. 

“We didn’t play as well as I think we’re capable of playing in the first half,” Franklin said. “But, again, we’re 4-0 and we found a way to be 1-0 this week.”

The Penn State defense really didn’t look too good in the first half, either, giving up 174 yards on 7.9 yards per carry. Franklin said that “we’re going to have to improve” in the run defense after the game, but that run defense took a big step forward in the second half.

The Illini ran the ball 23 times for just 3.1 yards per carry in the second half.  The Nittany Lions forced two turnovers in the second half and allowed just 4.2 yards per play. As a defensive unit, Penn State looked just about perfect in the half.

Part of the struggles on defense might come from the inexperience on defense. Most of Penn State’s defense is either fairly inexperienced or young, which means there are going to be some rough patches. So how long does it take to get the experience and understanding you need to be a successful defender?

“It depends. It’s different for everybody,” Cam Brown said. “I didn’t learn my full position until spring ball of my freshman year.”

Of course, the offense had to turn things around in the second half as well — and Ricky Rahne’s group blew things open in the fourth quarter. McSorley found both Juwan Johnson and KJ Hamler for beautiful touchdowns to make things comfortable for Penn State.

Before Ricky Slade ran for two touchdowns and Journey Brown ran for another, it was clear that the Nittany Lions’ offense had worn down Illinois to a point of no return. Penn State has so much speed, strength, and physicality on offense that they’ve been able to simply wear down opponents.

The emergence of KJ Hamler and Miles Sanders has allowed McSorley to go to weapons that simply cannot be contained for all 60 minutes. Let’s just hope that Penn State can become a four-quarter team in time for the White Out.

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About the Author

Derek Bannister

Derek is a senior majoring in Economics and History. He is legally required to tell you that he's from right outside of Philly. Email Derek compliments and dad-jokes at [email protected]

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