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Position Grades: Illinois

It was a mixed bag, but mostly good.

Penn State v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

It may not have been pretty or satisfying, but I’ll take an unsatisfying win over a loss any day of the week.

Quarterback: B-

Yesterday, we learned that Drew Allar is indeed, human. He didn’t see what would’ve been a nice deep touchdown throw to KeAndre Lambert-Smith and thus, didn’t throw in KLS’ direction. Allar also sailed a few balls over his intended targets’ heads. That being said, Drew wasn’t helped by having a few well-thrown balls dropped by his intended targets, including what should’ve been a touchdown pass to Kaytron Allen on the only fade pass that I’ll accept (seriously, it was a beautifully-placed ball). He will learn and grow from this experience, for sure.

Beau Pribula came in a little earlier than many of us expected, considering it was very early in the fourth quarter, and proceeded to run, run, run, and run some more. I have to wonder if it was part of an effort to generate some bigger runs to burn the clock, which was something the running backs weren’t able to do for most of the day. Speaking of which...

Running Back: B+

The skeleton figurine is still waiting on that home-run from Nicholas Singleton or Kaytron Allen going off for a 30-yard run while knocking a few defenders out of his way. Until then, we’ll have to be treated to Allen dragging three defenders into the end zone on a short touchdown run or Singleton using a slight opening up the middle to race through untouched 16 yards to put the game on ice to start the fourth quarter. We also saw the running backs utilized more in the passing attack, with Singleton catching three of them for 49 yards, while Trey Potts threw a lovely TD pass on a trick play that turned a 16-7 lead into 23-7 late in the third quarter, to put the Illini’s upset hopes on the ropes.

Wide Receiver: C

Liam Clifford’s lovely catch on a deep ball from Allar that set up a critical PSU field goal right before halftime prevents this from being a D-grade. Malik McClain had a pair of inexcusable drops that would’ve moved the chains, while KeAndre Lambert-Smith unfortunately will be best known in this game for committing a dumb unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when PSU had 3rd and 2 and was driving near Illinois’ red zone to try and expand on a 13-0 lead, killing the drive and ultimately resulting in Illinois blocking a field goal attempt, which helped set up a TD drive for Illinois to get the crowd back into the game.

Tight End: A

The tight ends were targeted a good amount yesterday, with Tyler Warren grabbing a TD while Theo Johnson also had a pair of catches, and would’ve had more had Allar not sailed a couple balls over him. Can’t really complain about this unit three games in, they’ve been solid as advertised.

Offensive Line: C-

Remember when we had high expectations for this group coming into the season? Yeah, I get the feeling we jinxed it. Phil Trautwein is going to have his work cut out for him in film study this week.

Defensive Line: A

Welcome back, Coziah Izzard! After missing the first two games, Izzard came out with a pair of sacks, while the D-line (and front seven as a whole) did a fine job of keeping Illinois’ ground game in check.

Linebacker: A

We got the Abdul Carter we all remembered and loved from last season, flying all over the place (but not out of position) and getting an interception. Dom DeLuca also forced a fumble, which was recovered by Kobe King, setting up PSU’s initial scoring drive.

Secondary: A+

Three of PSU’s five turnovers forced were due to the secondary getting some very timely interceptions. Daequan Hardy in his 2023 debut had a pick, while Johnny Dixon snuffed out what would’ve been a momentum-changing TD drive with an interception near his own goal line, and Cam Miller had an interception that set up PSU with a short field, which the Lions capitalized to make a nine-point game a sixteen-point one.

Special Teams: B

Blocked field goal aside, Alex Felkins was money on his attempts, getting PSU points when their offense was unable to punch it into the end zone. Kaden Saunders continues to have very sure hands in the punt return game, and even had a nice return to set PSU up with good field position. The punting game remains a mixed bag, as Riley Thompson could’ve gotten more leg on his punts and seemed to have one partially deflected. He is absolutely going to get a punt rejected Dikembe Mutombo-style if he isn’t a little quicker with his four-step Aussie Rules Football style punts.

Coaching: B

Manny Diaz’s defense played like the Nittany Turnover Machine we all hope for every game with the five turnovers, which helped keep the Illini in check while the offense took time to figure things out. It seemed like Mike Yurcich wanted to stubbornly run right at Illinois’ defensive front, led by future NFL first-round pick Jer’Zahn Newton (who had himself a hell of a game) in an effort to wear them down, which ultimately seemed to happen in the fourth quarter, as evidenced by Singleton running 16 yards untouched up the middle.

The offense did adjust eventually by throwing some swing passes to the running backs and trying plays that went more East-West than North-South, even throwing in a little trickeration with Potts’ TD pass to Warren. While the gameplan felt gritty, not pretty (to borrow a line from a certain former PSU hoops coach), it was more than enough to get the job done.

Overall: B

It felt like an A-level performance from the defense, B-ish level from special teams, and a ‘C’ level performance from the offense. Averaging this all out, we’ll just go ahead and give this one a B. It sure wasn’t pretty at times, but ultimately, PSU got the win and covered against an Illinois team determined to muck things up, without too much discomfort.

[BONUS CATEGORY] Announcers: F

I swear, Gus Johnson had money on Illinois to cover the 14.5-point spread, because every time PSU did anything positive, he sounded like someone who received a letter in the mail informing him he was being fined for getting photographed by a local speed camera. Between him and Joel Klatt calling incompletions interceptions (and vice-versa), Klatt disputing calls that were clearly obvious, and the nearly four-hour long broadcast (remember how the new clock rules were supposed to eliminate this crap?), the FOX production was absolute hot garbage, and nobody won yesterday.