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Analyzing Post-Illinois Reactions For Penn State Football

Penn State football is undefeated.

The Nittany Lions scraped out a 30-13 victory on the road at Illinois Saturday in an up-and-down match that stayed close longer than it likely should have. Penn State’s defense and special teams held the team together until the offense started to click, but it wasn’t exactly a pretty game.

For what was probably Penn State’s most controversial game yet, Nittany Lion fans had plenty to say. Our football beat writers took a look at some of the hottest takes from the Illinois win.

“Penn State’s Offensive Line Looks Awful”

Joe Lister: Yes. James Franklin may praise the offensive line time after time for how many players are getting reps in, but the truth is that Penn State’s offensive line has been shaky at best. Nick Singleton finished the first half with one yard per carry, while Kaytron Allen did so with .2 yards per carry. The Illini finished the quarter with two tackles for loss.

Singleton and Allen are two of the best running backs in college football, and they are actively being held back by their O-line. Yes, Illinois has a future top NFL Draft pick in Jer’Zhan Newton on that defensive line, but keeping Singleton and Allen from producing is near criminal. When Olu Fashanu is getting called for holding, that’s when you know it’s bad.

CJ Doebler: In this instance, it did. I think this was an isolated incident, as it was the Nittany Lions’ first road game of the year as well as their Big Ten opener. Up to this point, Penn State hasn’t played a Big Ten-caliber opponent, and Big Ten road wins are tough to come by during the middle of the season, let alone the first time going on the road.

The line was penalized three times during the contest, with two false starts plus one hold from Olu Fashanu, which rarely happens. Penn State’s running game struggled with both running backs averaging under 5.5 yards a carry. The offensive line couldn’t provide much of a pocket for Drew Allar to throw from and the young quarterback struggled because of it. Illinois does have a decent defensive line with some future NFL talent that gave Penn State many different looks, but that performance isn’t anywhere near what Penn State is capable of. It was a bad showing in Champaign, but I think the line will be back in its true form soon.

Nolan Wick: Saturday’s performance left much to be desired from the team up front. Drew Allar was sacked once, while three penalties and quarterback hurries also occurred. Meanwhile, there were four tackles for loss, and the running backs averaged less than five yards per carry.

Allar looked rattled at times, and although that’s partially a result of the occasion being his first away start, I can’t help but put partial blame on the offensive line. It’ll need to clean its act up heading into a pivotal game against Iowa.

“Drew Allar Can’t Live Up To The Hype”

Joe Lister: Allar didn’t have his best day, and anyone can tell you that. He had a few rough looks that he’ll want to revisit in the film room and seemed easily rattled without Trey Wallace as his second option at wide receiver. Malik McClain just wasn’t getting the job done in his stead.

That being said, this was Allar’s first start on the road and it was against a pretty tough defense, as Big Ten West teams tend to be. Should he have found KeAndre Lambert-Smith wide-open for that one touchdown pass? Yes. The same goes for Liam Clifford on that same play. But Allar is still testing the waters a bit here, and he’ll adapt and overcome for Iowa in a week’s time.

CJ Doebler: Once again, I don’t think one bad showing is cause for concern. This was another new experience for Allar. He’s appeared in road games before, but coming into a new stadium and starting is a whole different animal, and I’m sure nerves were a factor. Despite not playing at the caliber he did during the first two games, Allar still threw for 208 yards on 16 completions. No touchdown passes and a 48% completion rate isn’t good, but the wide receivers and offensive line weren’t helping Allar’s numbers at all. We still can’t tell exactly what Allar will be for the Nittany Lions, but I think after his first two showings, he’s allowed one subpar game.

Nolan Wick: Allar’s performance was statistically the worst of his three starts, but why should one good or bad start determine someone’s entire trajectory? It was his first Big Ten start, which was hard on its own. Add the factor of playing on the road, and it gets even more daunting.

Let’s remember that Allar is still young and learning the ropes. He made a few poor throws, but the offensive line’s play, multiple drops by his receivers, and the whopping amount of penalties Penn State took are all deserving of significant blame.

“Penn State’s Defense Is One Of College Football’s Best”

Joe Lister: Yup. I don’t even have to say much here. Four interceptions, a forced fumble and subsequent recovery, and just 13 points allowed — all on the road — says enough. These guys are really good, and they’re set for an exciting season. When Penn State’s offense stalls, fans know the defense can hold down the fort in the meantime.

CJ Doebler: If one good thing came out of the game on Saturday, it was the defense’s performance. Even when the offense wasn’t executing the way it should, the defensive picked up the slack, and then some. Four interceptions and one fumble recovery on the road supported what everyone has been saying all preseason: this defense is superb. The seven tackles-for-loss and Illinois’ 62 combined rushing yards was a statement performance from the defensive line.

Nolan Wick: Four interceptions, one fumble recovery, and only 62 Illini rushing yards allowed is an overwhelmingly positive defensive performance. This group looks lightyears better than it did in week one.

Simply put, this is one of the best defenses in America. Penn State is 16th with 802 yards allowed and allows 4.43 yards per play, which falls into the top half of all FBS defenses. Additionally, players such as Abdul Carter, Kalen King, and Chop Robinson are just a few of the talented athletes this group has to offer.

“The Nittany Lions Don’t Have Enough Wide Receiver Depth”

Joe Lister: Again, yup. Wallace seemed to be a late scratch no one saw coming, and it really hurt the Nittany Lions. As I said before, missing Wallace was really tough for Allar, and it’s obvious the other receivers aren’t quite ready to step up in his place. There’s a battle for the No. 3 wide receiver role, but apparently, nobody wanted to show that they could be the No. 2 receiver against the Illini.

Don’t forget though: Tyler Warren caught two touchdown passes in the past two weeks. The wide receivers might not always be there, but Penn State has two good tight ends it can lean on when needed.

CJ Doebler: If you asked me this question after the first two games, I would’ve scoffed. After Saturday, I’m not so sure. There were a fair amount of drops during the contest, and Allar didn’t have the pinpoint accuracy he normally does, but the Nittany Lions definitely struggled without Trey Wallace.

Malik McClain got the start this week in Wallace’s absence but had trouble catching the ball during the game. The wide receiver corps struggled a lot, but they were already at a disadvantage without their No. 2 receiver and without a quarterback with time to throw. Whether the depth pieces in the wide receiver room just had a bad game or not, Wallace needs to come back soon.

Nolan Wick: I’m not going to agree with that right now. We’ve already seen Penn State’s wide receiver rotation work well this season.

The Nittany Lions did run the ball a little bit more on Saturday and had one more rushing touchdown, as the ground game so far has looked better than the passing game this season. Penn State’s 219 passing yards were 73 less than Illinois’, and it was the lowest this season. Some things looked off as multiple passes were dropped or inaccurate, though, which is something that needs to be worked on if the passing game is to thrive long term in 2023.

“Illinois Exposed Penn State’s Weaknesses”

Joe Lister: In an incredible turn of events for me as a person, I won’t be a cynic here. I personally wouldn’t worry about Penn State getting “exposed” by Illinois. The Nittany Lions played a good Big Ten team on the road, albeit the Illini have struggled against worse opponents this season. This game showed that Penn State likely needs both Wallace and Lambert-Smith in the game to really succeed, but it also showed that the defense can be truly lockdown. Allar, the running backs, and the wide receiver corps will all bounce back.

Don’t forget, Penn State covered the spread for the third week straight. Sports gambling isn’t the bible for how a team should perform, but it says something that the Nittany Lions are beating FanDuel every week.

CJ Doebler: They absolutely did, but in the end, it won’t matter. I keep saying it was one bad game and everyone should stay calm, but Penn State will have to face defensive lines much better than the one Illinois currently has. Illinois had a good defense last year and still has a strong line this year, but I don’t think it should’ve bullied Penn State’s front five the way it did. The Nittany Lions definitely had some offensive shortcomings, evident in how they finished drives against Illinois, but the problems are fixable. Illinois did expose Penn State’s weaknesses, but this early in the season, James Franklin can pinpoint and correct the issues heading into tougher Big Ten play. Hopefully, the weaknesses we saw against Illinois were just bad execution and not indicative of any real issues.

Nolan Wick: If anything, it’s the other way around. The defense took full advantage of Luke Altmyer’s flaws with four interceptions and held the Illini to just 62 rushing yards, for instance. Despite taking way too many penalties and other smaller mistakes occurring throughout the game, Penn State still won by a sizeable margin.

Illinois gave more lessons to learn than exposing Penn State’s weaknesses. It was a good test and a sign of what the team will need to be prepared for in the future, which it is talented enough to do.

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About the Author

Joe Lister

Joe is a senior journalism major at Penn State and Onward State's managing editor. He writes about everything Penn State, especially its 10-2 football team. If you want to find him, Joe's usually watching soccer with his shirt off or at the gym with his shirt on. For dumb stuff, follow him on Twitter (iamjoelister). For serious stuff, email him ([email protected]).

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