In the last 3 minutes of the Penn State Nittany Lions victory over the Illinois Fighting Illini, I noted that I feel my heart racing and wondered aloud what my heart-rate was then. I had not expected to actually measure it, but there just happened to be tools where I watching the game, so there you have it. The narrative was going to be that the 2011 Nittany Lions may be hazardous to your health, but at least in terms of heart rate, that’s not unhealthy (blood pressure would be considered “prehypertension” for the record). In fact, at my weight, that would be fat-burning if I was on an elliptical trainer. So, might the 2011 Nittany Lions make me leaner? Now we’re talking.
Winning ugly is better than losing pretty and winning fugly, even more so. I did not think Penn State would have as much trouble in the conditions as they did. I’m disappointed by them in that regard. It really exposed how not having a good tight end or fullback Joe Suhey catching he ball out of the backfield really hurt them I think. I should modify this criticism to note that the conditions (which on the field were merely wet I believe — snow never piled up on the field) did not hurt the defense which had about 10 tackles for a loss on the day. The two defensive tackles Devon Still and Jordan Hill combined for about 20 tackles and 4½ for a loss. LB Gerald Hodges had 19 tackles! MLB Glenn Carson, whose name I have not heard a lot this season, made some critical tackles as well. Drew Astorino also had some good tackles in the first half in particular. I am not sure the Illini even had a first down in the first half. The domination was that total.
The absence of WR Derek Moye hurt more than I thought it would. I had come the conclusion that the wideouts had shown enough with him off the field to not be worried. I have been proven wrong. Justin Brown dropped passes he normally would not have and Brandon Moseby-Felder reminded us why he hasn’t been seen much with a dropped pass and a penalty. That being said the woeful passing game could not be explained simply by receivers dropping balls, Matt McGloin was unimpressive in the 1st quarter, throwing several bad throws in additions to the drops. The high-water mark was a missed field goal from 43 yards out by Anthony Fera.
Even less impressive was Rob Bolden, who got to take snaps in the second quarter. I was not against that given how McGloin was playing but Bolden continued to show he has nothing to offer as quarterback right now. Has he been treated fairly? Probably not, but he simply does not have it.
Illinois showed signs of life late in the first half, alternating between quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase and Reily Ford, but a touchdown was called back by a penalty. Two plays later, a bad snap on a field goal attempt turned into an interception, one of 4 Illini turnovers on the day.
In the second half, Penn State continued to struggled offensively, while the Illini started improving a bit and getting actual yardage and first down. Late in the third quarter after stopping a McGloin sneak on 4th down, the Illini marched down the field for the game’s first score, a touchdown. The Penn State defensive was wearing down a bit, having had no support from the offense. The Nittany Lions drove down inside the 10, but Silas Redd was stuffed twice and McGloin was sacked and fumbled on third down. Penn State kept the ball and Fera finally got them on the board with a field goal. Illinois then held onto the ball until having to punt with about three minutes left in the game and the anemic Penn State offense needing to go 80 yards to take the lead.
Enter Moye. Just having him on the field made all the difference. His first reception after coming in on the final Nittany Lions drive seemed to focus the rest of the receievers, including Brown. Oh and Moye was interfered with all the down the field on the pass interference call on 4th down. Not seeing any other options, McGloin threw deep for Moye near the goal line. The 15 yard penalty and a completion to Moye put the Nittany Lions on the doorstep. Two Silas Redd (the only PSU runner to get any meaningful yardage, he ran better in the conditions than I expected and needs this bye badly) runs later and the improbable touchdown gave Penn State the lead.
Scheelhaase used his legs and his arm to get the visitors in field goal range. Then, as time was ready to expire, this happened:
I have been quite critical of the student section for blindly going along with Guido D’Elia’s efforts to make Beaver Stadium a generic experience, but they impressed me here. The doink of the football hitting the right crossbar concluded a shocking end to a frustrating game.
The win was Joe Paterno’s 409th as head coach, surpassing Eddie Robinson for the all-time Division I record.