Passing: Christian Hackenberg-21/29 for 266 yards, 2 TD
Receiving: Chris Godwin-7 receptions to 76 yards, 1 TD
Rushing: Saquon Barkley-20 carries for 90 yards, 1 TD
Defense: Troy Reeder-3 tackles, 1 INT for 44 yards
Passing: Wes Lunt-16/37 for 129 yards, 1 INT
Receiving: Dionte Taylor-4 receptions for 45 yards
Rushing: Ke'Shawn Vaughn-15 carries for 49 yards
Defense: Clayton Fejedelem-13 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 TFL
The PSU defense returned to its typically stellar form as well, completely suffocating the Illinois offense. Wes Lunt, a typically accurate pocket passer, was forced to throw against man coverage under pressure most of the afternoon. While he was only sacked 3 times, Penn State's defensive front generated plenty of pressure and their young but talented DBs made Lunt work for all 129 yards. Illinois was held to just 167 yards of total offense, while Penn State accumulated 3 sacks, 1 interception, and 9 tackles for loss.
Victory against Illinois kept the Nittany Lions in third place in the East Division at 7-2. Penn State is currently only behind unbeaten Ohio State and Michigan State teams. Illinois remains in 5th place in the West, and dropped to 4-4 on the season.
Hackenberg's Stats Continue to Improve:
As everyone knows, Hackenberg had an amazing freshman campaign under Bill O'Brien and a disappointing sophomore year under Franklin. His touchdown:interception ratio plummeted, as did nearly every statistical measure by which quarterbacks are evaluated. Coming into his junior year, especially after his seemingly resurgent game in the Pin Stripe Bowl, we all wanted to see Hackenberg solidify himself as a legitimate top draft pick right away. And that didn't happen.
However, I'm a bit of a Hackenberg apologist, so I was looking at his numbers this past week as I prepared for the Illinois game. Despite what the ESPN announcers might tell you, Hack has not really played that badly this year. His receivers have dropped a lot of balls (looking' at you, Gesicki), the play calling has been truly baffling at times, and I think 5 of the first 6 games PSU played this year were in the rain. Not ideal conditions for a quarterback to rack up the numbers. However, despite that, his touchdown to interception ratio is the best that it's been throughout his career. So far, he's got 13 TDs to just 2 interceptions. Also, despite some bad games in nasty weather, his QB rating is actually one point higher now than it was during that magical freshman year (134.90 vs 133.99).
So, my prediction that Hack would continue to improve his numbers this week was correct. Hackenberg had his highest completion percentage of the year, averaged 9.2 YPA, and continued his interception-free streak. In fact, the last time he threw an interception was September 19th. In the past six games, Hackenberg has completed 56.7% of his passes for 1,415 yards and 12 touchdowns. That's an average of 236 yards and 2 touchdowns per game.
Oh, and then there's this:
Predicting that Barkley will break a few big runs isn't exactly Nostradamus-level prognosticating, but after being hobbled by an ankle injury the last few games, I was expecting him to have an "I'm back!" party against Illinois. Rushing for 90 yards on 20 carries isn't exactly a bad outing, but it also isn't spectacular outing by Barkley's absurd standards. I'll call this one a wash rather than a failure, though, because of this particular run:
There were a lot of predictions in this category, some of which were correct and some of which were way off. I think the best way to tackle it is through a best/worst analysis. Therefore...
Best Prediction: I correctly predicted that Hackenberg would have 2 passing TDs and Barkley would have one rushing. I also correctly guessed that Penn State would get three sacks and one interception against Lunt.
Worst Prediction: I predicted a pair of field goals by Joey Julius, and assumed he would make all his extra point attempts. This was a great example of what happens when you assume, as Julius seemed to be kicking with an uncalibrated leg on Saturday. Not only did he miss two PATs, but he also drilled a kickoff out of bounds before being replaced by Tyler Davis (AKA Min-Nassib, #95). Davis made two field goals and all 3 extra point attempts during the remainder of the game. Franklin attempted to defend Julius afterward, but it is difficult to imagine that Davis, the walk-on will not be the starter from here on out.