No. 10/9 Penn State Runs Past Illinois, 63-24

Nittany Lions score 42 points in second half, 35 in fourth quarter

 

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – No. 10/9 Penn State totaled 387 rushing yards, led by 200 yards and three touchdowns from junior running back Miles Sanders, as it defeated Illinois, 63-24, Friday night in Memorial Stadium in the Big Ten football opener for both teams

 

Penn State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten)  put the game out of reach with 42 unanswered points in the second half, with 35 coming in the fourth quarter. Penn State had built a 21-7 lead to start, only to see Illinois (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) score the next 17 points for a 24-21 lead early in the third quarter. However, a Sanders 48-yard touchdown run with 8:36 remaining in the third quarter put Penn State back in the lead, and the Lions never looked back.

 

The fourth quarter scoring surge pushed Penn State past 50 points for a third consecutive game – a school first – and marked the first time since 1917 that Penn State scored 60-plus points in consecutive games.

 

Joining Sanders in the prolific Penn State running attack was senior quarterback Trace McSorley, who rushed for a career-high 92 yards, and freshman running back Ricky Slade, who ran for a 61-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter and totaled a career-best 94 yards and two touchdowns for the game.

 

McSorley added three passing touchdowns, completing 12-of-19 passes for 160 yards. Freshman tight end Pat Freiermuth hauled in his first career touchdown reception, while Juwan Johnson and KJ Hamler came up with big touchdown receptions in the second half.

 

Keys and Difference Makers

Ground Game

Both teams had success on the ground in the first half, but Penn State persisted in the second half to total 387 yards for the game – its most since running for 389 against Youngstown State in 2006.

 

Illinois finished with 245 yards rushing.

 

Penn State rushed for 206 yards in the first half and Illinois added 174, but the Nittany Lions outgained the Illini 181-71 in the second half.

 

Sanders led Penn State by rushing 22 times for 200 yards and three touchdowns – all career highs – with 14 carries, 113 yards and two touchdowns coming in the first half. It was the 28th 200-yard rushing performance in Penn State history.

 

McSorley rushed for 83 yards in the first half and added one more carry to finish with a career-high 92 yards. Ricky Slade added 94 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries, with all but one carry for 10 yards coming in the second half.

 

Illinois was paced on the ground by Reggie Corbin, who totaled 87 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, highlighted by a 51-yard run to setup a touchdown in the first half. However, Corbin only managed three carries for minus-2 yards in the second half. Mike Epstein added 73 yards on 13 carries, but was also limited in the second half, totaling 1 yard on one carry in the second half.

 

Turnovers

It was a tale of two halves in the turnover battle, with Illinois holding the upper-hand in the first half and Penn State taking advantage in the second.

 

The Nittany Lions committed two turnovers in the first half and failed to scoop up an Illinois fumble on the goal line. Penn State’s first drive rolled for 55 yards until Illinois’ Stanley Green forced a fumble on the third play and Michael Marchese recovered it. Illinois was unable to take advantage and Penn State built a two-touchdown lead, but Illinois cut the lead to one score after recovering a fumble forced by linebacker Cam Brown inside the 1, and then connecting on a touchdown pass to Rick Smalling on the very next play.

 

McSorley was then intercepted by Delano Ware with 28 seconds remaining in the second quarter, and Illinois kicked a field goal to trim the Penn State lead to four.

 

However, Penn State linebackers Jan Johnson and Ellis Brooks tallied their first career interceptions in the fourth quarter to contribute to the Nittany Lions’ rout. With Penn State leading 35-24, Johnson picked a bobbled pass at the Illinois 21, and McSorley found Hamler in the end zone on the first play of the ensuing drive. Brooks setup the final touchdown with a 22-yard interception return to the Illinois 10.

 

Second-Half Defense

Penn State limited Illinois to just 166 yards and seven points in the second half, as the Nittany Lion defensive unit nearly pulled off its third consecutive second-half shutout.

 

Penn State was led in tackles by safety Jonathan Sutherland with a career-high eight, while fellow safety Garrett Taylor totaled seven and tied for the team lead with 1.5 stops behind the line.

 

Step-by-Step

After a lost fumble nullified Penn State’s opening drive, the Nittany Lion defense forced a three-and-out and the offense responded with a touchdown drive. Sanders rushed five times for 48 yards during the seven-play, 70-yard scoring drive, capping it with a 14-yard touchdown run.

 

Both teams traded missed field goal attempts, with Illinois’ Chase McLaughlin missing from 55 yards out and Penn State’s Jake Pinegar missing from 42, before Illinois tied the game at 7-7 with 2:16 remaining in the first quarter. The Fighting Illini needed just six plays to cover 74 yards, as Corbin rushed in from 2 yards out.

 

The Nittany Lions went back ahead 14-7 after covering 75 yards with the aid of just one completed pass for 4 yards and a 12-yard pass interference penalty, as McSorley rushed five times for 43 yards and Sanders did the rest, punching the ball across the goal line with 12:52 left in the half.

 

Penn State stretched its lead t twoo touchdowns after forcing a three-and-out and sticking to the ground game. Sanders (2), McSorley (1) and Slade (1) rushed for first downs on four consecutive places to reach the Illinois 19, and after a pair of McSorley netted 14 yards to the 5, McSorley dished to freshman Pat Freiermuth for the freshman’s first career touchdown reception.

 

Illinois would score the next 17 points though to take a 24-21 lead early in the second half.

 

Reggie Corbin broke free for back-to-back rushes of 15 and 51 yards to get the Illini offense going, and after Penn State failed to scoop up a fumble forced by Cam Brown at the goal line, Rivers connected with Ricky Smalling for a 6-yard touchdown with 6:47 remaining in the second quarter, cutting the Penn State lead to one touchdown.

 

Both teams traded punts, giving the Nittany Lions the ball with 37 seconds remaining in the quarter at their own 17, but McSorley went deep on the first play and was intercepted by Delano Ware at the Illinois 44. The Illini took advantage, setting up a 42-yard field goal for McLaughlin, which cut the Penn State lead to 21-17.

 

Illinois received the kickoff to open the second half, and used a trick play for a 17-yard touchdown toss from wide receiver Trenard Davis to Smalling.

 

Penn State regained the lead on the ensuing possession, as Sanders broke free for a 48-yard touchdown run with 8:36 remaining in the third quarter. The Nittany Lion defense then forced a punt and the offense drained the final 6:04 in the quarter before scoring a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter as, facing third-and-12 from the 16, McSorley stepped up in the pocket under pressure and rifled a touchdown pass to Johnson.

 

Penn State linebacker Jan Johnson intercepted a bobbled pass on Illinois second play of its ensuing drive, setting up a 21-yard touchdown pass from McSorley to Hamler for a 42-24 lead. Slade rushed for touchdowns of 61 and 1 yards, and an Ellis Brooks interception led to running back Journey Brown scoring a 6-yard rushing touchdown for the final margin.

 

Up Next

Penn State returns to action next Saturday night for the annual Penn State White Out. Kickoff against No. 4/4 Ohio State is slated for 7:30 p.m. on ABC.