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Grading The Defense: Black Is White, Linebackers Are Suck

Defensive Line:  B.  It's been said that holding could be called on every play if the referees look hard enough.  Well, holding really could've been called on nearly every Illinois offensive play.  There were multiple instances of Illinois offensive linemen grabbing a fistful of jersey, directly in the view of officials and without penalty.  It's a Big Ten tradition, after all. In particular, Jared Odrick was held all night.

The pass rush wasn't particularly vicious by Penn State standards, which makes me think that Tom Bradley called for the "mush rush" against Juice Williams, forcing him to operate from the pocket.  Ollie Ogbu continues his solid play, clogging up the middle and blowing up a screen play in the second quarter.  Maurice Evans recorded the Lions' only sack.  Aaron Maybin was surprisingly solid against the run.

Linebackers:  C-.  Ghastly.  That would be a good start to describe the play of Penn State's linebackers, except for the man quickly becoming known as "Lavarro".  Josh Hull is the kind of guy that everybody wants to succeed, but it's just not happening.  This is no exaggeration -- his bad-to-good play ratio was about 10:1.  It's embarrassing and heartbreaking.  Tyrell Sales was barely adequate.  He and Hull were blocked rather easily by the Illinois offensive line all night long.  Neither are remotely quick enough to stop plays to the outside.  Or anywhere else.  Bani Gbadyu got a little playing time, and didn't do much of anything.

Secondary: B.  Can't really complain too much.  Benn made an All-American touchdown catch against Lydell Sargeant.  Something weird happened on Benn's second touchdown -- Mark Rubin let him run by, apparently expecting help over the top when no help was forthcoming.  Obvious blown coverage.  There were a few others, but Juice couldn't take advantage.  Rubin and Drew Astorino were both great (yes, great) in run support.  Scirrotto still isn't the best tackler, but he's a ball hawk in the middle of the field.  Oh, and A.J. Wallace was awesome all night (but needs to be on the bench for kickoff returns).

Glaring Problems:  Well, the linebackers.  Obviously.  I'm not sure what can really be done, because it's difficult to determine what options the coaches actually have.  We all knew that Sean Lee's injury was catastrophic, and Saturday night was the proof.  Lavorro is the only linebacker who deserves a starting role right now.  It's up to the coaches to find a solution.  Perhaps the best option is sliding Sales into the middle and using Bani Gbadyu, Nate Stupar, or Mike Mauti as the other linebacker.  But something has to be done.

Another potentially troubling development was the difficulty defending practically every read-option play the Illini ran.  Makes you wonder what might happen when Terrelle Pryor and Beanie Wells are on the other side of the ball instead of Juice and Dufresne.  Maybe that problem fades a bit with different linebackers, but the time to get other LB combinations is right now.  Waiting a few more weeks will lead to a disaster against Ohio State, nevermind against Wisconsin's power running game in two weeks.

Overall Grade: B-.  Nothing to be particularly ashamed of, but it won't go down as a particularly great defensive effort.