I'm not mad. I'm not even disappointed. But I am a little let down.
That may have been the best all around game the Illini have played during the Big Ten losing streak, but it still fell just short of finally getting Tim Beckman his first conference win. After getting down two scores only sixteen minutes into the game, it looked like the Illinois Fighting Illini would ultimately be settling in for another disappointing Saturday afternoon of football. But something unusual happened. For the first time in forever, the team came out of halftime fired up and outplayed the other team.
The first half was all Penn State, there's no denying that. But the offense started clicking in the third quarter and the defense finally seemed to figure it out too. The linebackers closed gaps, the line generated pressure, and even the young secondary started stepping up. They're still not there yet, but this was a nice bounce back to see after last Saturday's debacle against the Michigan State Spartans. Does losing on an interception your first offensive play in overtime suck?
Yes. It sucks a lot.
But the team finally showed an ability to make adjustments and actually hang around til the final whistle. With games left against Indiana, Purdue, and Northwestern I'm pretty damn confident that the conference losing streak ends this season.
- Nathan Scheelhaase's toughness. You can criticize his inability to read a blitz and his questionable clock management skills and that would be fair. But Nate is maybe the toughest Illini QB I can remember (keep in mind, only 25 years old). Nate's gone through more coordinators than most college QBs with less talent surrounding him. And he keeps going and continues to sell out physically when the only option is to scramble. 312 yards with a 63.5% completion rate is a pretty good day.
- Josh Ferguson continues to be an absolutely dynamic weapon, catching six passes for 67 yards and accounting for both Illini TDs. Joining him though? Spencer Harris, who had a breakout game with 10 catches for 79 yards, even with his huge TD reception in the first quarter being called back for a chop block.
- The defense finally started making adjustments. Tim Banks hasn't saved his job and probably can't by the end of the season, but it was nice to start seeing the defense figure things out. The tackling is still poor and the defensive backs need to start turning to look at the ball, but there was a marked improvement out there today. They made a few huge stops, including the big 4th & 1 at the 40 in the 3rd quarter and forcing a goal line fumble that was ultimately responsible for the game making it to overtime.
- Nathan Scheelhaase's clock management skills and love of double coverage. The wasting of 25 seconds at the end of the second half (only to be bailed out by a roughing the passer penalty) is all on Nate. There were no timeouts left, but he needed to get the play off before ten seconds were left to at least allow a chance at the field goal. Penn State gave us a freebie, but that's not good. And neither is throwing into double coverage. There isn't a receiver on this team good enough to consistently beat two defenders.
- So many damn penalties. And costly ones too. This was a flag happy officiating crew, but it's not like the Illini haven't been shooting themselves in the foot all season. A chop block brought back a touchdown. Hands to the face gave Penn State one. The team needs to start playing more disciplined football.
- Another sideline interference call? Seriously? How does this keep happening?
- The "running into the kicker" call. Ultimately it wound up not hurting the Illini, but this is one of the worst calls we've seen this season.
That's not running into the kicker. That's running sort of near the kicker.