There really isn't anything positive out of this debacle. Illinois came into Happy Valley and completely dominated the Nittany Lions today. They ran the ball at will against a depleted Penn State defense that had ten regular players either sit out the entire game or get injured during the game not to return. You could try to blame the injuries on the poor defensive performance, and while that's certainly part of it, it's hard to believe the regular players could have done given their performance so far this year.
To recap just how bad the injuries are, the Penn State defense had to play the entire game without Jack Crawford, Mike Mauti, Gerald Hodges, and Bani Gbadyu due to injury. Sean Stanley and Derrick Thomas sat our their second straight game with suspensions. Additionally, Penn State lost Nick Sukay, Eric Latimore, Pete Massaro, and Andrew Dailey during the course of the game, with Sukay and Latimore going down in the first quarter and not returning. That, is a lot to overcome. By the end of the game I was scrambling to find a roster to figure out who these numbers were I hadn't seen all year.
As depleted as the defense was, it's no excuse for how poorly the offense played. Sadly, the offense appeared to regress this week. Even though they haven't been scoring a lot of points, Penn State has had success in stringing together long drives all year. Not today, as Penn State managed to only register seven first downs the entire game. The Lions were 2-for-14 on third down conversions, and two trips to the redzone only produced six points.
A lot of people will point to Rob Bolden's stat line (8-of-21 for 142 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT) and say the Penn State quarterback situation is a disaster. While Bolden had a couple poor throws, I don't think this would be fair criticism. Illinois was able to stop the running game and get pressure on Bolden by just rushing their front four which allowed seven guys to drop back into coverage.
If you're looking for a goat in this game, look at the offensive line and the coaches. This is easily the worst offensive line since 2004. Illinois had their way all day with them. But this didn't stop the coaches from running up the middle anyway. State gained just 65 yards on 26 carries. That's 2.5 yards per carry if you're counting at home, and that just won't get it done in the Big Ten. But it blows my mind that Penn State keeps running between the tackles anyway. The coaches are not putting these players in a position to succeed, and that's a shame.
The bye week couldn't come at a better time. Penn State is 0-2 in the Big Ten and in an absolute freefall. They need the week off to get some guys healthy, and then they have to go to Minnesota and get a win. Penn State needs three more wins to get bowl eligible, and right now nothing is looking like a sure thing. Minnesota and Indiana are the low hanging fruit. Michigan, Michigan State, and Northwestern are looking doubtful.
This is still a young team, but they are a bad team. There is no getting around it. We can only hope the poor play of the offensive line doesn't hold Bolden back from getting better. And let's hope they don't get him killed either.