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3 & Out Rapid Reaction: Penn State football overcomes miscues in win over Illinois

Penn State football struggled throughout today’s game at Illinois, but got out of Champaign with a comfortable win. How are we feeling about the Nittany Lions after the victory?

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Penn State football, Illinois, Drew Allar, college football
Sep 16, 2023; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Drew Allar (15) runs the ball against Illinois Fighting Illini linebacker Alex Bryant (90) during the first half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The Big Ten title pursuit for Penn State football (3-0, 1-0 Big Ten) started in earnest today, as the Nittany Lions defeated Illinois (1-2, 0-1) 30-13. After a sloppy start on the road, Drew Allar and Penn State were able to overcome their miscues to get their first conference win of 2023. We’ll have plenty of reaction and analysis from Champaign in the hours to come, but here are three quick thoughts as you move on to the afternoon slate of college football.

The Drew Allar show hits the road

One of the main talking points coming into this game was Drew Allar, who made his first career road start this afternoon. James Franklin insisted his QB was ready for the moment this week. But like most of the Penn State football team, the 19-year-old Allar seemed out of sorts early. Allar and the Nittany Lion WRs had several miscues today. Allar even missed a wide-open KeAndre Lambert-Smith down the field in the second quarter for what could have been a quick dagger score.

However, when James Franklin needed something from his sophomore QB, Allar delivered. On a pass that put him over the 1,000-yard career mark, Allar hit Liam Clifford down the field in the closing seconds of the first half to set Penn State up for a field goal. Allar looked poised on the 2-minute drive, extending the series several times with his feet to help Penn State take a 16-7 lead into the half.

The Nittany Lion offense struggled again to start the second half. Penn State had a total of 30 yards in the 3rd quarter before going on a 68-yard scoring drive near the end of the frame. While Allar kept the drive moving, it was backup RB Trey Potts with the touchdown throw to give the Nittany Lions a knockout blow.

Drew Allar finished the ballgame going 16-33 for 208 yards and no scores. The important thing in Allar’s stat line is that he, and the entire Penn State football team, didn’t turn the ball over today. While it certainly wasn’t a stellar performance, it was serviceable for a first-time starter on the road.

Missed opportunities kept game closer than it was

Illinois moved the ball easily on the first drive of the game, racking up 51 yards on the series en route to a missed field goal attempt. The Penn State defense responded, with Dom DeLuca forcing a fumble, followed by Abdul Carter and Daequan Hardy snagging interceptions on the next three series.

However, the Nittany Lion offense couldn’t really capitalize, having to settle for two Alex Felkins field goals before Kaytron Allen finally found the end zone on the third series.

Overall, Penn State looked disjointed early in the game. Despite scoring 16 points and having nearly 200 yards in the first half, the Nittany Lion offense sputtered at times. Penn State also committed several mental errors, including two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.

The trend repeated itself to start the second half. After a Johnny Dixon interception on Illinois’s opening drive, the Nittany Lions came up scoreless again before capitalizing on a Cam Miller interception late.

If there was a saving grace in this game, it was the Penn State secondary. The unit forced 4 interceptions as part of a 5 turnover day for the Illini. Penn State was able to get 20 points off turnovers. But against tougher competition down the stretch, leaving this many points on the board may be problematic.

Is Penn State passing the “Ohio State and Michigan test”?

The question was the same all offseason: could Penn State football match the physicality of Ohio State and Michigan in the trenches this year? Although statistically, it wasn’t a bad performance, Nittany Lions fans can’t be feeling better about that prospect from the eye test early in this game.

Illinois didn’t break off any big runs, but was close multiple times if not for several shoe-string tackles. The holes appeared to be there for the Illni up the middle, and you’d have to think Michigan and Ohio State have the players to take advantage. Penn State was able to contain Illinois on the ground, only allowing 62 rushing yards on the day.

On the offensive side, the Nittany Lions struggled to get going on the ground early. After one quarter, Penn State was only averaging 2.2 yards per play on 1st down, compared to 5.5 yards for Illinois. Penn State improved here as the day went on, however, finishing with 164 rushing yards on 40 attempts.

Even on special teams, Penn State struggled to get a push, giving up a blocked field goal and a tipped punt in this game. Overall, the Nittany Lions were able to wear down Illinois today. But against bigger foes in the Big Ten, that may be a different story.



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Matt is a co-owner and Editor in Chief of Basic Blues Nation. Launched in 2022, Basic Blues Nation is one of the fastest-growing websites covering all Penn State athletics, with over 3.5 million readers in 2023. Matt is also a credentialed member of the Penn State football beat, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.

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