Here are our three takeaways from the action.
Penn State forces early turnovers
The Nittany Lions were not at the top of their game early in the game against Illinois, but the Illini did their best to give them every opportunity to get back on track. Linebacker Abdul Carter and cornerback Daequan Hardy each recorded an interception, while LB Dom DeLuca forced a fumble that position mate Kobe King recovered.
Carter had the ball thrown right at him by Illinois quarterback Luke Altmyer to get the first pick. Altmyer didn’t seem to see Carter undercutting the crossing route in the middle of the field, and the Nittany Lion made the easy catch. Hardy’s pick was one of the best plays of the game, if not the season so far. He was isolated against Illinois WR Casey Washington, who has a five inch listed height advantage. The Nittany Lion nickel corner rose up and beat Washington at the catch point in his first game of the season. Those three turnovers set the tone for Penn State and helped it build an early 13-0 lead.
Mental mistake keeps Illinois alive
Penn State had an opportunity to put the game on the brink early, but a personal foul by wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith allowed Illinois to put together its first scoring drive of the day. The Nittany Lions would have had the ball at the Illinois 20-yard line with a short third down conversion between them and another first. Instead they needed 17 yards for the first down and ultimately settled for a long field goal by Alex Felkins.
The Illini blocked the kick and marched down the field for a touchdown to make it 13-7. While the penalty wasn’t going to make or break the outcome for the Nittany Lions on this particular Saturday, it’s one that would have a much larger impact against better opponents.
While Penn State’s defense continued to hold the Illinois offense, the Nittany Lions were unable to take advantage for most of the game. Time and time again the offense would get the ball back in a position to salt the game away, and time and time again it would end up giving the ball back to the Illini. Part of the issue was the unit’s struggle to run the ball. Neither Kaytron Allen or Nick Singleton was able to get going early in the game and it failed to open up the passing game for Drew Allar and the rest of the offense. It should be no surprise that the team’s first passing touchdown came on a trick play and was thrown by running back Trey Potts.
Not having wide receiver Harrison Wallace III, who was listed as questionable on the pregame availability report, caused problems for a team that has struggled at receiver outside of he and Lambert-Smith. His status will be important for the Nittany Lions moving forward.