Penn State not only managed to advance to 7-2 on the the year with Saturday's 39-0 win over Illinois, but also secured a winning season, the fourth such since the NCAA slammed PSU with since-repealed sansction back in 2012. While many expected the Lion defense to have a big day against the Illini, the offense that turned also turned heads en route to the easy victory. Let's review the highs and lows from the victory.
The High Five
Dominating Day: It was a big win and one for which Nittany Nation has been longing. PSU was firing on all cylinders for much of the game on both sides of the ball. Sure, they squad had some hiccups, but Penn State snagged another winning season despite the effects of the sactions and showed it can put together a complete dominating performance.
Hack Attack: Christian Hackenberg has a heck an outing against the Illini, starting fast and ending up going 21 for 29 for 266 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. If that weren't enough, he also pulled in a 14-yard touchdown. This was the type of efficiency and efficacy Penn State fans have longed to see return with the junior quarterback. He deserves a lot of credit for spreading the ball around to seven different receivers and also having an impressive performance against the 34th-ranked overall defense in the nation. A nod goes to Chris Godwin, DaeSean Hamilton, Geno Lewis and the receiving unit, as well, which had another strong performance.
Starting Blocks: Aside from Hackenberg, his offensive line managed the trenches against a formidible defensive line. While it gave up three sacks on the day (and seven tackles of loss), the unit blocked for 400 yards of offense in what can only be called a dominating performance. The line stood tall when a lot of doubt surrounded it. The men up front deserve a lot of credit for this victory.
Pressure Play: On the other side of the trenches, the Nittany Lion defensive line gabbed four sacks from a unit that had only surrendered a total of eight previously this season. Once again, Carl Nassib, Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel led the charge combining for three of those sacks. The defense as a whole had nine tackles for loss and simply took Illinois and QB Wes Lunt out of their comfort zone, holding him to 16 for 36 for 129 yards and an interception. Beyond this, the defense plugged up the Illini run game for a mere 37 yards on 27 carries.
Seeing Red: Penn State's offensive performance in the red zone was particulalry impressive, going seven for seven on such opportunities. The offense was much more effective with a more diverse set of play calls and gear shifting, which kept the Illinois defense guessing throughout the day.
Young Gun: Saquon Barkley showed his versatility on strong runs, but also his ability to make plays catching the ball out of the backfield. He ran for 84 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries and caught three passes for another 58 yards.
The Low Three
Kick In the Teeth: Joey Julius had a rough outing missing not one, but two extra points on Penn State's first two scroing drives. He seems to have had his rhythm thrown off. Fortunately for Penn State, backup kicker Tyler Davis, stepped in, booting two field goals — including a 42-yard boot — and stabilizing the PAT situation.
Ball Control: Although the game was never in doubt for Penn State, the Lions did give up two fumbles, which ended up not doing Illinois much good in the end. But ball protection is critical as the Lions turn the corner into the home streatch of the season.
Tri-factor: Despite rolling up 23 first downs to Illnois' 12, Penn State was not all that efficient on third downs, going five for 13. This has been a issue for much of the season. But again PSU was facing a formidible Illnois' defensive unit.