Illinois: Report Card

Get the lowdown on who made the grade and who didn't measure up in Penn State's 27-20 loss at underdog Illinois Saturday.

CHAMPAIGN, ILL. — Who earned passing marks and who failed miserably in Penn State’s 27-20 loss to Illinois? Read on for details.

OFFENSE: Joe Paterno won't be able to use the bad-field-position dodge this week. The Nittany Lions enjoyed great field position most of the day and still couldn't get in the end zone. Turnovers once again proved critical, with three of Penn State's last four drives ending in interceptions. And the team's red-zone inertia is a glaring deficiency.
Grade: D

DEFENSE: After struggling to adjust to Illinois' no-huddle tempo, the Nittany Lions got their act together in the second half, holding the Illini without a pass completion and allowing them just six points. All told, the defense gave up 17 points to an unorthodox offense that the scout team had trouble replicating in practice.
Grade: B-

SPECIAL TEAMS: A mixed bag. The Lions got a 70-yard punt by Jeremy Boone and two field goals by Kevin Kelly. But they also gave up Arrelious Benn's 90-yard kick-return score and got very little from their own return game.
Grade: C+

COACHING: The Lions opened up the offense after taking heavy flak for their game plan against Michigan. It might have worked, too, if not for the turnovers.
Grade: C+

INTANGIBLES: The Lions had some ragged moments, like the arm-tackling ugliness on Benn's 29-yard touchdown catch in the first half. But overall, they played hard coming off their dreary loss at Michigan the week before.
Grade: B

OTHER GUY: Illinois looked sharp on offense in the first half, less so as the game went on and the hits started to take their toll. They managed only one big play after halftime — Eddie McGee's 53-yard sprint on a quarterback sneak — but it was all they would need. And while Penn Staters will be understandably focused on the Lions' offensive miscues, the Illinois defense deserves props, particularly linebacker J. Leman. It's hard to believe this is the same team that two years ago gave up 63 points to Penn State.
Grade: B

OFFICIALS: There were only eight penalties, no controversies and no rulings on the field that were overturned on review. If you don't notice the officials, they probably had a pretty good game.
Grade: A

CROWD: Illinois must really enforce its dress code. Except for a sliver of blue and white, everyone in Memorial Stadium was wearing orange.
Grade: B

OVERALL: Ugh. The Lions continue to make critical mistakes and squander opportunities. They don't appear to be resourceful enough to score when they need points late in games. As a result, they find themselves at the bottom of the Big Ten standings. This is the fourth time in seven seasons that they've started 0-2 conference play. And while they clearly have more potential than the 2001, 2003 and 2004 teams did, it's fair to wonder when that potential will start translating into victories over quality opponents.
Grade: C


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