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No. 7 Penn State Shocked By Illinois 20-18 In Nine Overtime Periods

No. 7 Penn State football (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) was shocked by Illinois (3-5, 2-3 Big Ten) 20-18 at Beaver Stadium Saturday afternoon.

It was an ugly football game that saw the Nittany Lions struggle offensively and also give up over 300 yards on the ground. It took an NCAA FBS Division I-record nine overtime periods, but Illinois finally prevailed to give the Nittany Lions their second loss of the season.

Shortly before the game, Sean Clifford was announced as the starting quarterback after two weeks of speculation and uncertainty. The quarterback clearly battled through some discomfort throughout the game, often coming up slow after taking a hit.

How It Happened

Penn State won the opening coin toss and chose to defer its choice to the second half, giving Illinois the ball to start the game.

The Illini immediately moved the ball into Penn State’s territory thanks to a few big runs and a defensive pass interference call on Tariq Castro-Fields.

However, Artur Sitkowski made a mistake and was intercepted by Curtis Jacobs, which gave the ball to Sean Clifford and the Nittany Lions on their own 34-yard line.

Following a Penn State three and out, Illinois continued to run the ball successfully. Penn State’s defense held strong, though, and forced a Blake Hayes punt.

Keyvone Lee, who got the start at running back in this one, started off the next drive with a 13-yard run to move the chains. That’s all the Nittany Lions would get, as Jordan Stout came on a few plays later to punt.

The Nittany Lions appeared to have forced a fumble and recovered it in the end zone, but the officials later ruled that Chase Brown had forward progress and ruled him down before the ball came lose. Illinois retained possession, but it ended up punting later in the drive.

On the ensuing drive, Jahan Dotson mossed multiple Illini defenders for a 36-yard gain down to the Illinois’ 42-yard line.

On the next play, Clifford connected with KeAndre Lambert-Smith on a slant, and the wideout took it all the way to the end zone for a 42-yard touchdown to put Penn State ahead 7-0 right before the end of the first quarter.

Penn State continued its momentum when its defense took the field in the second quarter. Brandon Smith absolutely lit up Sitkowski to force a fumble, and Dvon Ellies recovered it to give the Nittany Lions the ball back.

The Nittany Lions took advantage of the turnover with a Stout 35-yard field goal to extend their lead to 10-0 with 11:12 left in the half.

Illinois responded with a nice-looking drive that featured a lot of ground-and-pound. Brown broke off a 27-yard run on the fifth play of the drive to move the ball down to Penn State’s 33-yard line. The running back eclipsed 100 yards a few plays later when he gashed the Nittany Lions’ defense for another eight yards.

Later in the drive, Brown punched it in from a yard out to cut Penn State’s lead to 10-7 with 2:52 left in the half. Illinois’ drive lasted 15 plays in 8:20.

It would stay a 10-7 game heading into halftime.

After Penn State started the second half with a punt, Illinois took over. A few plays into the Illini drive, Derrick Tangelo sacked Sitkowski with a big hit, leading to a fumble that was recovered by Jaquan Brisker.

However, the Nittany Lions didn’t take advantage, as Stout missed a 40-yard field with 9:19 left in the third quarter.

Illinois, once again, started its drive with a dominant running game. Josh McCray broke loose for 28 yards to set up the Illini at midfield. After Penn State’s defense forced a 4th and 8 from the 32-yard line, Illinois brought on James McCourt for a 50-yard field goal. He missed, and Penn State took over still up 10-7 with 6:40 left in the quarter.

After a Penn State punt, it was more of the same for Illinois. Runs of 16 and 17 yards by McCray and Brown, respectively, helped move the ball past midfield. The third quarter ended with Illinois driving at Penn State’s 21-yard line.

Four plays into the fourth quarter, Illinois scored from 14 yards out, but it was called back due to an offensive pass interference call on the Illini. If you thought this game couldn’t get any more weird, Illinois punched it in the end zone once more, but it was once again called back due to penalty.

After all that chaos, Illinois settled for a McCourt 37-yard field goal to tie the game up at 10 with 11:49 left in the game. Penn State couldn’t get anything going on its next drive, as a sack on third down forced Stout to come on and punt.

The Illini went over 300 yards rushing on their next drive, as they’ve gotten basically all of their offensive production on the ground, with only 30 yards through the air. However, Arnold Ebiketie came up with a big sack on third down to force a punt back to the Nittany Lions with 4:44 left in the game.

Penn State picked up a few first downs, but it was forced to punt the ball back to the Illini. Illinois took over at its own eight-yard line with 33 seconds left in the game. The Illini couldn’t get into field-goal range, and this game went to overtime tied up at 10.

The Nittany Lions got the ball to start overtime and converted a 4th and 1 on a Tyler Warren direct snap to keep their drive alive. However, the Illini held strong and forced a Stout 31-yard field-goal attempt. He converted, and Penn State went up 13-10.

Penn State’s defense forced a 4th and 6 from Illinois, and the Illini brought on the field-goal team. McCourt made a 39-yard field to tie it up, and the game moved to a second overtime.

Illinois drove in down inside the five-yard line, but the Nittany Lions didn’t break and held the Illini to a field goal. McCourt made a 22-yard field goal to give Illinois a 16-13 lead. Penn State’s offense didn’t get much movement at all, but Stout bailed it out by drilling a 40-yard field goal to advance the game to a third overtime.

Starting in the third overtime period, each team starts from the three-yard line and they keep going back and forth until one team doesn’t convert and one does. Both Penn State and Illinois didn’t convert on their first two-point conversion attempts.

At the start of the fourth overtime, Illinois didn’t convert the two-point attempt, leaving it up to Penn State to convert and win it. You guessed it — Penn State didn’t convert, and we advanced to the fifth overtime period.

Penn State couldn’t punch it in to start the fifth overtime, which gave the Illini an opportunity to score and win the game. The insanity continued when Illinois wasn’t able to score either, which moved the game to the sixth overtime.

Both teams failed to score in the sixth overtime, and Penn State started with the ball in the seventh period. Noah Cain was stuffed short of the end zone on a run up the middle, giving the ball to Illinois with a chance to win it. Illinois was stuffed, and for the first-time ever in FBS Division I football, we moved to an eighth overtime period.

Illinois finally converted to go ahead 18-16, putting Penn State in a must-score situation. The Nittany Lions did in fact score with a Noah Cain run, advancing the game to a ninth overtime.

The Nittany Lions couldn’t punch it in to start the ninth overtime, and the Illini finally took advantage, punching it in to win the game.

Takeaways

  • After tons of speculation over the past two weeks, Sean Clifford came out suited up during warmups and was named the starter when starting lineups were announced on the video board shortly before the game. The crowd gave the signal-caller a rousing ovation when he was introduced. However, while Clifford playing should be a good sign, he did look uncomfortable throughout much of the game and was slow to get up after a multiple hits.
  • Brent Pry’s defense was dominated on the ground Saturday afternoon. The Illini totaled 165 rushing yards in the first half alone, including 134 of them from Chase Brown. For the whole game, the Nittany Lions were gashed for 357 yards on the ground. Brown accounted for 223 of those rushing yards. It’s hard to assume what exactly caused the lackluster run defense, but it’s not far-fetched to say PJ Mustipher’s absence played a huge role in it.
  • Generally speaking, it’s safe to say this wasn’t what you wanted at all heading into a big matchup against Ohio State. On both sides of the ball, Penn State didn’t play up to its standard. If the Nittany Lions want any shot at beating Ohio State, there needs to be major improvement across the board.
  • How bout’ some overtime football, folks. Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven, not eight, but NINE overtime periods were needed to decide a winner in this one. What a wild, dumb football game.

What’s Next

Penn State heads to Columbus next Saturday to take on Ohio State in a prime-time matchup on ABC. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a junior majoring in journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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