“The game’s not over yet!” Terry proclaimed with 10 minutes left in the 4th quarter and an 18-point Penn State advantage. “Why are people leaving???” At that point Illini fans were rushing to exit the stadium after Penn State scored again.
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I was pretty sure that we had nailed the win. I didn’t see any evidence that Illinois could make a comeback against Penn State’s defense. But I also didn’t want to eat my words later if Terry was right. Stranger things than overcoming an 18-point deficit have happened in football games with ten minutes left. So I kept quiet.
The reason Terry was concerned was the possibility of quick strikes by Illinois – the Juice Williams-Arrelious Benn powerhouse connection had established itself at several points in the game to achieve significant yardage, albeit mostly between the 20’s. And any time that Juice Williams takes a snap, his ability to run can be a grave threat. We’ve also been burnt before by Arrelious Benn’s return capability. They are both excellent players. If somehow Illinois could score 8 points quickly, then it would motivate the Illini and make the end of the game – well – interesting. But fortunately that didn’t happen.
When Penn State scored another touchdown to make the score 35-10, even Terry could relax. This was a satisfying win. The game was much closer than the final score of 35-17 indicated. At halftime we were hanging on to a 7-3 lead, and Terry and I couldn’t figure out what had happened to our offense.
In the second half, Penn State was able to get the offense going, especially our running game. We scored 4 touchdowns. I found myself cheering “Go Clock!!!” in the 4th quarter as Illinois started running out of time to make things happen.
Also most importantly the defense held off Illinois all day. They couldn’t obliterate the Williams-Benn connection, but they could contain them. And they did that admirably well.
Probably the key plays of the game were the stops the defense made against an Illinois drive late in the first half. A grounding penalty by Williams caused by Penn State defensive pressure took Illinois out of field goal range, then an interception by Stephon Morris on a hail mary pass ended the half without an Illinois score. It was a momentum-buster for Illinois. The game might have had a different outcome had they scored a touchdown and been ahead 10-7 at the half.
For the 5th game in a row, Penn State’s defense has not allowed a touchdown in the 1st half of play! The offense started a bit slowly, but the offensive line showed remarkable improvement over prior weeks. There were few mistakes. The one fumble by Derek Moye after his pass reception was a phenomenal play by Illinois’ defense, something that’s hard to guard against.
Overall, we're feeling much better about this win! Perhaps Penn State is on its way to a good - if not great - season after all.