Long Plays Highlight Penn State’s 56-21 Win Over Illinois
Nittany Lions win fourth-straight game; Dotson scores on two receptions over 70 yards
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State scored 42 unanswered points to earn a 56-21 win over Illinois on Saturday in Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions and Fighting Illini played as part of the inaugural Big Ten Champions Week. Jahan Dotson scored on two receptions over 70 yards and the Nittany Lions added four rushing touchdowns.
Penn State (4-5, 4-5 Big Ten) gained a season-high 580 total yards. Sean Clifford completed 16-of-22 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns. Dotson hauled in six catches for a career-best 189 yards, including touchdowns of 75 and 70 yards. Keyvone Lee rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown, while Caziah Holmes ran for 77 yards and two scores. Will Levis completed three passes for 42 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown pass to Brenton Strange. Lamont Wade added a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown.
The Nittany Lion defense was led by Brandon Smith, who registered eight tackles, three tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. Jaquan Brisker and Jesse Luketa each made seven stops. Shaka Toney had six tackles, including a sack, and PJ Mustipher recorded 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack. Antonio Shelton added a strip-sack.
Illinois (2-6, 2-6 Big Ten) quarterback Isaiah Williams completed 8-of-18 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Williams also ran for 102 yards. Daniel Barker led Illini receivers with three catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. Chase Brown rushed for 30 yards and a touchdown. Jartavius Martin led Illinois with 12 tackles. Jake Hansen contributed nine tackles with 2.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks.
Penn State had three plays of 70 yards for the first time in program history and the Nittany Lions had two 70-yard passing plays in a game. Dotson is the first Penn State player with two catches of 70 or more yards in a game.
How It Happened
The Nittany Lions got on the board quickly, scoring on the first play of the game. Clifford hit Dotson on a comeback route along the left sideline. Dotson turned to his left and had nothing but grass in front of him, taking it 75 yards for the score.
Illinois tied the game a few minutes later. After Illinois recovered a fumble at the Penn State 16-yard line, Williams found Brian Hightower for a 5-yard touchdown.
Penn State answered quickly with a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown by Wade. The senior made an Illinois defender miss at the Penn State 15-yard line and outran the rest of the Illinois coverage team to the left sideline and broke one last tackle at the Illinois 20-yard line before running free into the end zone.
The Fighting Illini responded with a 12-yard touchdown run by Chase Brown to tie the game. On the first play of the drive, Williams gained 64 yards on a rush before being forced out of bounds. Illinois took a 21-14 lead after a 38-yard touchdown pass from Williams to Barker.
Penn State tied the game on a 4-yard run by Levis later in the first quarter. Levis completed a 23-yard pass to Theo Johnson and the Nittany Lions gained 64 yards on nine carries, including a 15-yard burst by Lee.
After forcing a three-and-out, the Nittany Lions got a boost on their next drive on a 50-yard punt return by Dotson. Two plays later, Holmes scored on a 3-yard run for his first career touchdown.
Penn State extended its lead to 35-21 midway through the second quarter, scoring on a 15-play, 91-yard drive. Lee finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. Clifford connected with Johnson for a 19-yard pass and Dotson for a 24-yard reception to get the Blue and White into Illinois territory. Penn State ran the ball on 9 of its next 11 plays before Lee found his way into the end zone.
After holding Illinois to another three-and-out, the Nittany Lions scored again on the first play of their drive. Clifford hit Dotson on a screen play and Dotson followed a block by Juice Scruggs and did the rest for a 70-yard score. Penn State led 42-21 at the half.
Penn State added a touchdown late in the third quarter on a 7-yard pass from Levis to Strange. On fourth-and-1, Strange caught a pass along the right sideline and leapt over a diving defender to reach into the end zone. That completed a 68-yard drive that featured three passes for 23 yards by Clifford.
The Nittany Lions scored again late in the fourth quarter on a 1-yard run by Holmes. On the drive, Holmes had six carries for 49 yards and added a 12-yard reception.