We have seen some marathon games in college football. Then there was the game Illinois and Penn State played on Saturday. A 2-5 Illinois team shocked #7 Penn State in their homecoming game, 20-18, in an ugly 9 overtimes. Quarterback Brandon Peters hits Casey Washington for the game-winning score, sealing this game as the longest in FBS history. And to call this game ugly, is an understatement.
Where Was the Offense?
A common stereotype of Big 10 football is that there are a lot of low-scoring games. This game may serve as the embodiment of that stereotype. Early on, it seemed that Penn State was going to handle business. The Nittany Lions held a 10-0 lead off a 42-yard catch & run touchdown by KeAndre Lambert-Smith. However from there, the offense went stagnant for Penn State. They would not score again until the first overtime. Quarterback Sean Clifford did not have his best day, going 19/34 for 165 yards and 1 TD. Clifford was also sacked four times and even dropped a potential game-winning pass on a trick play in the 3rd OT.
The offense was not very pretty for Illinois, either. With Peters being active but benched due to an injury he suffered two weeks before, Artur Sitkowski got the start. The Rutgers transfer did not have a good day either, completing only 8 of his 19 passes for 38 yards and an INT. Sitkowski suffered an injury during the overtime period, prompting head coach Bret Bielema to use Peters for the remainder of the game. The saving grace for the Fighting Illini was their running game. The tandem of Chase Brown and Joshua McCray combined for 365 yards on the ground, with Brown adding a TD run. Brown himself had his second 200 yard game of the year, placing him in exclusive company in Illinois record books.
There were multiple instances of points being left off the board throughout this game on both sides.
In the first quarter, Penn State had Illinois backed to their own endzone when they forced a Chase Brown fumble. The ball was recovered by Penn State for a touchdown initially. However, the officials ruled that Brown’s forward progress was stopped prior to the fumble, erasing both the score and fumble altogether. Later in the first half, Clifford had Parker Washington streaking open in the corner of the endzone, but pressure from Illinois caused an overthrow on 3rd down, leading to a field goal.
In the fourth quarter, there was a wild sequence that took two touchdowns off the board for Illinois on the same drive. Firstly, Sitkowski hits tight end, Daniel Barker, who runs it in for a 14-yard go-ahead score. However, the officials later called two penalties on the play, an illegal man downfield and an offensive pass interference, that wiped the TD off the board along with pushing them back 15 yards. Two plays later after a face mask on Penn State, Brown scampers for what was initially his second TD of the day. Problem was, a holding penalty on Illinois wiped away that touchdown as well.
Even in overtime, there were chances for both to end the game earlier. Illinois ran a trick play with Casey Washington throwing the pass. Safety Jaquan Brisker broke on the ball and hits his hands, but could not hold on for the game-ending INT. Illinois kicked a field goal to tie the game at 13 and push it to a second overtime. Illinois had their own bad drop shortly after Clifford’s, as McCray had a ball hit his fingertips in the endzone on the following drive.
Illinois-Penn State Final Thoughts
With this being Penn State’s second loss of the season, they will most likely fall out of the top-10 rankings. While they do have games against Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State, a loss to a 3-5 team does not help their resume. It will be an uphill battle now, but Penn State will have chances to pull themselves up.
Prior to the game, Bielema has been receiving some criticism for his comments regarding the roster he inherited. And it has not been pretty for the veteran in his first year in Champaign. However, this game could serve as a signature win for an Illinois program that has had some rough years lately.
Penn State will prepare for a marquee matchup next Saturday night at Ohio State. Illinois will travel back to Champaign to face Rutgers.
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