Advanced Stats Gets It Done With Defense: Illinois

The numbers:

maypp: Penn State: 2.88; Illinois: 2.71
spr: Penn State: 45.6%; Illinois 43.5%
npp: Penn State 35.4%; Illinois 37.7%

In 2021, with both teams coming off of a bye week, Illinois completely revamped their offense into a speed-oriented power rushing attack that would have seemed outdated in the mid-80s before the Penn State game. This caught Penn State very off guard, and one of the stupidest football games ever played ensued. Penn State didn't trail for a single regulation second, and lost a 9 OT game.

Almost certainly in response to atrocious defensive play so far, but probably largely inspired by that 2021 overhaul, Illinois did something similar here. They abandoned the defense of the first couple weeks and went with an old-timey 5-2 that would have seemed outdated in the mid 80s. Penn State was clearly improvising in how to attack it early on and struggled to get any consistency.

That's the first thing that stands out: meh-to-bad offensive numbers. Especially considering Penn State's offense had been as good as any P5 offense in the country and Illinois' defense had been as bad as any P5 defense in the country coming into week 3. These are the worst offensive numbers of the season so far for Penn State, and it's not close.

But unlike that 2021 game, Penn State not only won, but did so with relative ease.

Why? Well winning the TO battle 5-0 certainly helps.

But that's the second thing that stands out here: Penn State was, even if not massively, clearly the better team across the board, even if you ignore the turnovers. And that's no small feat: for all of Illinois' struggles, they weren't with the ability of the offense to move the football. This team put up a maypp >4.5 against Toledo and >4.0 against Kansas and an spr >50% against both. This Illinois team has shortcomings, but moving the ball efficiently and competently has not been one of them. They did not do so against Penn State, tried to force the issue because they didn't have a choice, and that led to TOs.

The third thing that stands out is that Penn State's offensive issues were mostly of the very fixable kind, and those that weren't probably don't mean much. When it comes to the latter, Penn State will likely not see another true 5 man front the rest of the year, and if they do, it will be of the desperation gimmick sort that Illinois tried to muddy a game an opponent knows it shouldn't win. The rest were drops and silly penalties. Fix those fixable things and it could've been much better.

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