On Thursday, I told you four things to consider for this game. Three of those four things alluded to the fact that this game was going to be a battle. Well, the game played out exactly as we all thought before we saw Kansas blow the doors off the Illini a week ago (for more on that, I’ll refer you to “first road game Illinois” to get you context. The Lions got all they bargained for in their first conference game of the season. Here are your takeaways.
1: It’s that run defense again
418 yards is an anomaly and always will be, but Illinois was able to run the ball early on the Nittany Lions. To their credit, the defense adjusted and Illinois ultimately ran for 62 yards. Hopefully this is a sign of continuous improvement as the season goes on, instead of a weakness that remains as such from a year ago.
2: Missed opportunities
Penn State turned the Illini over three times in the first quarter, but only came away with 10 points. Some of it was due to Illinois’ relentless defense, others to Penn State’s own mistakes —the Lions had four penalties for 45 yards in the first half alone. As such, Illinois was able to stay in this game for probably longer than they otherwise would have had the Lions taken advantage of their opportunities.
3: First Road Woes
Drew Allar was under 50 percent passing. Wide receivers were dropping so many catchable balls I had to make sure I didn’t time travel back to 2018. Penn State ended the day with 164 rushing yards, but every single one of those was like pulling teeth. Both Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen were held well under 100 yards on the day, with Singleton being unable to get 50. This was a classic “Penn State goes on the road to open Big Ten play and struggles” game. Yet, the Lions still put Illinois away when it was all said and done.
BONUS: Thank your deity of choice for the defense
Penn State was ultimately able to put this game away because of the ferocious defense. Luke Altmyer had a couple of pretty passes for big plays. He also threw four interceptions, and the Lion defense added a fumble recovery to boot. When it looked like Penn State was not going to be able to move the ball, Manny Diaz’s relentless style of play made sure the Lions were still part of this one.