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Pulse of the Illini Nation: Which Half Mattered More?

Was Illinois’ third quarter lead a fluke? Or was it a true sign of progress?

Penn State v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Many Illini fans were on the edges of their seats in the third quarter of last week’s matchup with Penn State. Many others were dreading what they correctly assumed was about to happen. But what can we make of it all? Illini Nation had some varied thoughts to our question.

Many of the first few comments focus on the positives. A strong showing against a top-ten team under the lights at home is certainly nothing to scoff at, and it’s clear many fans are proud of the effort they saw.

Then again, the game did finish 63-24, and it finished that way for a reason. Other fans chose to focus on how we arrived at that final score and the disastrous fourth quarter that highlighted many of the young Illini squad’s weaknesses.

For a particularly fortunate subset of Illini fans, ignorance truly is bliss. I wish it were possible to bottle the energy in Memorial Stadium after the go-ahead touchdown, and I wouldn’t blame any fans who simply want to stay in that moment.

I find myself more in line with those who saw something special up until Penn State ran away with it, and I feel like Nick sums it up well:

The final score last year would’ve been something like 54-10, with the Nittany Lions not scoring as much because they would’ve pulled their starters sooner. Illinois looked like a competitive mid-tier Big Ten football team in much of that game, and Penn State ran away with it at the end mostly because of Illinois’ (largely self-inflicted) depth issues. MJ Rivers showed flashes of being a future Big Ten starter in-between the typical freshman mistakes. At the same time, Mike Epstein and Reggie Corbin seem to be forming one of the conference’s better backfield duos.

Illinois’ depth issues will eventually be solved, as more and more of Lovie’s players are brought into the fold and gain experience. Next year — and especially in 2020 — I see us playing much more competitively for much longer stretches against even the conference’s best teams. The game last week was an indication that the program’s new foundation has finally been laid, and now it’s a matter of finding and developing the right players to go out and start winning.

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