Things didn’t look good for Illinois early in the game Friday against Penn State.
Then things started to look very good, with Illinois getting a turnover late in the first half and marching down for a last-second field goal before heading to the locker rooms. Penn State led just 21-17, and the Illini were going to receive the second half kickoff.
The Illini even led for a moment after a touchdown early in the third quarter. But things did not go well after that. Let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly:
The “Human Joystick” had a nice little day against the Nittany Lions. None were better than his run for a big gain deep into Penn State territory in the first half:
On just 11 carries, Corbin ended the day with 87 yards and the first touchdown of the game for Illinois. Carries like these behind the offensive line have proved incredibly impressive and critical to the Illini’s success early in the year.
I still can’t believe Garrick McGee didn’t utilize this kid last year after he averaged over six yards per carry as a freshman. Mind-boggling.
In the first minute of the game, Stanley Green Jr. knocked the ball right out of the Penn State’s hands. See figure 1:
Stanley Green forces the turnover pic.twitter.com/fa4ZO3lk45— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) September 22, 2018
Honestly, whenever Green is going to make a tackle I get nervous. He had targeting penalties called against him more than once last year. But Bennett Williams had a very similar play to this one against Iowa last year, and this one by Green really set a nice tone for the first part of the game.
Don’t forget Delano Ware’s interception late in the first half that led to an Illini field goal heading into halftime:
I think Ware might be another candidate for “diamond in the rough” that Lovie & Co. has found.
“Bend but don’t Break”
This defensive philosophy works great in the NFL — or at least got Lovie to a Super Bowl. But these last two games have really made me question some defensive scheming. Yes, Illinois almost beat Penn State, but the defense gave up over 400 yards. Yes, Illinois led Penn State in the second half, but then proceeded to give up huge plays and get blown out.
Perhaps when the time comes, Lovie might consider making some defensive adjustments.
Attempting Field Goals
Chase McLaughlin has been really good this year. It’s no secret that between McLaughlin and Blake Hayes the secondary has excelled this year. He missed both a 55-yard and 52-yard attempt, which drew criticism from fans for Lovie’s decision not to go for it.
Lovie can certainly be frustrating, but with how well Chase began the year it’s hard to blame him for giving him another shot. In a game like this one, though, I would’ve liked to have seen more aggression.
The Defensive Line
Losing Mike Phair to the NFL was huge, but I think the effects on the field are really starting to show. Even with a significant number of returners, the Illini have not been able to get significant pressure on the quarterback, and the run defense has been suspect.
Jamal Milan being hurt doesn’t help, but Isaiah Gay, Ayo Shogboyno, Kenyon Jackson need to have more of an impact. Bobby Roundtree has been good, but he needs to be better.
Otherwise, more guys like Miles Sanders are going to put up 200 yard games against the defense.
The Fourth Quarter
There’s not much to say here. Getting outscored 35-0 after trailing just 28-24 is not the way any Illini fan wanted to see the game end. There’s been a lot of debate between “the players just ran out of steam” and were outmatched by Penn State’s roster, and Lovie and his staff did not make the proper adjustments.
I think giving up 5 touchdowns in a quarter might be the result of a little bit of both these things. Against South Florida, Illinois was outscored 18-0 in the fourth quarter.
This needs to change if the Illini are going to win any games.
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