How do you pick an MVP after a game like that?
In a game that allowed Illinois' slim postseason hopes to stay alive in front of just 35,000 fans, Penn State seemed to hit rock bottom. The genesis of the offense remains the same- one good early drive, one explosive play, and many, many drives stalled by turnovers, head-scratching calls that strip away any semblance of a rhythm and the lack of ability to convert for even a short gain. In a game decided by a last-second field goal, Penn State allowed points when one of their best players inexplicably jumped offsides on a fourth down and a flukey unintentional onsides kick where the wind blew the ball right back at the Illini kickoff team, giving them a free possession deep in Nittany Lions territory to open the second half. In a game where numerous things needed to go Illinois way for them to escape with a victory, by golly, the ball always somehow managed to bounce their way. It was that kind of game.
But this post is meant to find the positive, even if it's difficult to find much from the Illinois game. Therefore, the MVP award goes to defensive tackle Austin Johnson for wreaking havoc throughout the afternoon, finishing with five tackles and a quarterback pressure. Johnson is clearly continuing Penn State's tradition of producing defensive tackles who not only occupy space and allow the players behind them the freedom to make plays, but who also have the ability to disrupt plays in the backfield on a regular basis. Johnson is just a sophomore, yet has quietly become a major contributor for one of the best defenses in the nation. Each week he seems to be more improved and disruptive from the week before. Looking for something to be optimistic about? Next season the interior of Penn State's defensive line will feature a stronger and more experienced version of Johnson and Zettel lining up next to one another. It's safe to say they will cause many late nights for offensive coordinators as they try to figure out how to keep them out of the backfield all game.
Akeel Lynch- Lynch may have deserved this award, but a momentum-killing fumble in the second quarter took away from what was an otherwise brilliant performance. "Big Maple" rushed for 137 yards on 28 carries that included a 47-yard touchdown scamper that gave the the team a lead that it nearly clung to for the remainder of the contest. He was also the team's leading receiver and the only player to have more than one reception on the day. It seems likely at this point that Lynch is being groomed to be the focal point of the offense in 2015, and he's doing an excellent job of proving he can shine in an expanded role.
Marcus Allen- Speaking of players who are ready to take a leadership role, Allen continues to make a name for himself with another impressive performance in just his fourth start. Allen finished with 9 tackles, including a handful of open-field tackles that prevented big plays from an Illini offense that suddenly found their way to the second-level of the defense with increasing regularity.
Mike Hull- Hull quietly led the team with 10 tackles on the afternoon, including a quarterback pressure.