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Seven Key Takeaways: Penn State Struggles and Shines in 63-24 Win Over Illinois

We have more takeaways than usual because that was a weird game.

Penn State v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Defense Has To Grow Up Fast

The Penn State defense didn’t have its best effort on Friday night against Illinois. The first half of the game was very reminiscent of the first half against the Pittsburgh Panthers, allowing nearly 200 yards of rushing in the first half. The tackling was piss-poor to say the least, with multiple defenders missing tackles. The defense did get it together in the second half like it has all season, but there is still a lot of work to do all the way around.

The most disheartening defensive takeaway however may be the ongoing regression of John Reid. While a slight regression from Reid wouldn’t have been too surprising, he’s gone from being a shutdown corner to being a defensive liability as of late. He has the talent and football IQ to turn it around at any point, but until he proves it, Brent Pry will need to be careful with putting Reid out there.

Miles Sanders Is Ready For Primetime

22 carries, 200 yards, three touchdowns: what a Friday night for Sanders.

You’ve heard throughout the preseason and the first four weeks of the season that Sanders waited his turn behind Saquon Barkley, and now it’s his time to shine. Well, Sanders certainly shined against Illinois, dominating consistently while on the field. For Sanders, Friday night was his coming out party for those outside of Happy Valley.

After four games, Sanders now has 495 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 71 carries — that’s an average of 6.9 yards per carry. Not too shabby. Expect to hear Sanders name a ton in the lead up to next weekend’s showdown against Ohio State.

The Offense Is Going To Be A-Okay

Without calling out anybody specific, there were fans across Nittany Nation on Friday night who were worried to say the least about Penn State’s offense. Yes, the first half was rough at times — especially in the passing game — but in the end, the offense put up nearly 600-yards of offense and 63 points.

Ricky Rahne’s crew is going to be score on anyone in the Big Ten, there’s no doubt about that. There’s firepower all throughout the offense, and as long as Trace McSorley is behind center this season, the offense is going to be a juggernaut for opposing defenses.

Four Other Takeaways:

Usually, we’ve been doing just three key takeaways, but after this week’s game that included anything and everything, there’s a lot on my mind.

Juwan Johnson Looked Like Himself

It was a rough first three weeks for Juwan Johnson after entering the season with a huge expectations. But finally, Johnson looked like himself, ending up with four catches for 51 yards and a big touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Lions will need him next week against Ohio State.

Concerns with Field Goals

Entering Friday, Jake Pinegar only attempted two field goals this season. He got his third field goal attempt on Friday night, but it was a 44-yarder against the wind. Pinegar has a leg and has been solid with extra points, but it is concerning that he doesn’t have a ton of field goal experience heading into the biggest game of the season.

Self-Inflicted Wounds

Self inflicted wounds have been hurting the Nittany Lions all season, and they were back against Illinois. Eight penalties — esepcially a few defensive penalties — helped to lead to a few Illinois touchdowns. And as is tradition, the offense saw a touchdown get wiped off the board again as well.

Second Half Team

We’ve mentioned it before this season, but this is feeling a lot like the 2016 season in the idea that Penn State seems to struggle in the first half before making great adjustments at halftime. Over the course of last three games, the Nittany Lions have scored 37, 35, and 42 unanswered second-half points.