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Top 5 takeaways from the Penn State football victory over Illinois

The Penn State football team showed some areas that are strengths and weaknesses against Illinois.



Penn State football, Illinois
Sep 16, 2023; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini wide receiver Ashton Hollins (6) cannot make the catch against Penn State Nittany Lions cornerback Karen King (4) during the second half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes you just have to find a way to gut out a win on the road in the Big Ten. That is what the Penn State football team had to do when they took down Illinois 30-13 in Champaign. There will certainly be plenty to improve on heading into next week’s matchup against Iowa in the annual Whiteout. Here are five takeaways from Penn State’s win over Illinois.

Ball-hawking defense shines with 5 forced Turnovers

It should go without saying but Penn State doesn’t win this game without the elite play of its defense. After allowing some yards to the Illini on their first drive that led to a missed field goal, the defense settled in and created a nightmare for quarterback Luke Altmyer who finished the game with 4 interceptions. The Nittany Lion defense was able to force 3 1st quarter turnovers and had to remain stout all day because the offense was unable to put up more than a few field goals off those takeaways. Daequan Hardy made an instant impact in his 1st action of the year with an incredible interception down the sideline. The added depth of having Hardy back seemed to go a long way for the secondary as they were able to rotate fresh bodies all afternoon. The interior defensive line struggled early but settled in nicely as the pressure put on Altmyer is ultimately what led to all the mistakes down the field. If the defensive line can continue to improve, this defense can be really special this season. When the offense isn’t playing well as we saw against Illinois, this could be what helps Penn State stick with the top teams in the conference and avoid potential upsets down the road.

Ground game struggles

The run game seemed to struggle all afternoon for the Nittany Lions. While Penn State finished with 164 rush yards in the game, a lot of that was in garbage time with Beau Pribula eating up 47 of those yards. Kaytron Allen went 13 carries for 54 yards and a touchdown while Nick Singleton tallied 11 carries for 37 yards and a touchdown. Singleton put the game away with his 16-yard touchdown run to start the 4th quarter. The defensive front for Illinois proved to be disruptive and it felt that too many times Penn State seemed to go away from the run entirely. It wasn’t necessarily an issue with the running backs but more just the offensive line not opening up the holes we saw through the first two weeks. It is important to note that Singleton did get involved in the passing game more this week and ended up being the leading receiver in the game for Penn State with 3 catches for 49 yards. That says more about the struggles that Penn State had throwing the ball and the wide receivers getting open than anything though.

Penalties plague both sides of the ball

Penn State had one of its most undisciplined games in recent memory. The Nittany Lions tallied 7 penalties for a total of 70 yards against the Illini. It wasn’t just the penalties but rather the direct impact they had on drives. Early in the game, the Nittany Lions got a nice 2-yard loss on a rush only to get an unsportsmanlike conduct flag that gave Illinois momentum to keep moving up the field. It happened on the flip side as well. When Penn State was driving up 13-0 and looking to go up big before the half, a penalty on KeAndre Lambert-Smith set them back 15 yards and the drive resulted in a blocked field goal. The next drive by Illinois saw them march down the field and score a touchdown. At the very least it was a 10-point swing but possibly could have been a 14 with the way the Penn State offense was finally starting to move the ball. Luckily the defense forced enough turnovers and the offense did just enough to hold down the Illini. A lot of the flags were unsportsmanlike penalties and something that is easy to fix going forward so I wouldn’t expect this to continue to be an issue, however, the offensive line flags are a different issue.

The Offensive Line is Inconsistent

The offensive line was supposed to be one of the strongest position groups for Penn State this season. Against Illinois on Saturday they looked out of sync and confused. Even projected Top 10 pick Olu Fashanu had some miscues including a holding call that negated a solid Kaytron Allen run. Drew Allar was never able to get into a rhythm and finished the day 16/33 for 208 yards. He was missing throws fans saw him make through the first two weeks and part of it was the lack of a running game and the other was the constant pressure the Illinois defensive front was getting. It all stemmed back to the offensive line just seeming not right for the majority of the game. The good thing about games like this is that there are plenty of things to learn from. They will have to do it quickly with Iowa traveling to town which annually has one of the best defenses in the Big Ten.

The kicking game has been solved

The mini-disaster that was the kicking game against West Virginia in week one appears to have been solved. Alex Felkins looked great going 3 for 4 with a 20,45, and 28-yarder and making all 3 of his extra points. The 45-yard field goal in the 1st quarter was massive for Penn State who was looking to capitalize off of multiple Illinois turnovers. Felkins’ only miss of the day was a 52-yard attempt that was blocked. Nothing to really snuff at given the distance but based on the 45-yarder it would have been interesting to see how far his range really is. Nonetheless, with other issues popping up against Illinois, it is nice to put one to bed.

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Patrick is the Social Media Director and a staff writer for Basic Blues Nation. Patrick graduated from Penn State with a degree in Business Management followed by a Masters of Education in Sport Management from Millersville University. The Sweda family started getting Penn State Football tickets in 1966 and Patrick has attended over 160 games in his lifetime. He currently lives in Lancaster County Pennsylvania with his bernedoodle Newman.