Penn State’s season sunk to a new low on the road at Illinois, suffering a 16-14 setback that again showed glaring offensive issues surrounding Christian Hackenberg and the Nittany Lions’ passing attack. The offense generated just 265 total yards against an Illini defense that entered the weekend having the Big Ten’s worst scoring defense.
Penn State took a 14-10 lead early in the fourth quarter but surrendered a pair of David Reisner field goals, the latest of which came on a 36-yarder with just eight seconds remaining. His game-winner was made possible by a second straight three-and-out for Penn State’s offense and the choice by James Franklin to punt on a 4th-and-1 from his own 41.
Hackenberg completed just 8 of 16 passes for a season-low 93 yards, and the offense took a heavy run-first approach for the second straight game. While Akeel Lynch found success with 28 carries for 137 yards and a touchdown, the Nittany Lions averaged just 3.7 yards on 47 rush attempts. Senior Bill Belton exited the contest early with a shoulder injury.
The Nittany Lions defense turned in another quality performance but played without starting linebacker Brandon Bell and lost freshman defensive back Christian Campbell to injury early against Illinois. The Illini found success targeting slot receiver Mike Dudek, who caught 11 passes for 115 yards, totals that surpassed the entire PSU receiver corps (8 for 93) combined.
A week after securing bowl eligibility for the first time since the 2011 season, the Nittany Lions fell flat on the road and again struggled to score points. Was the performance against the Illini Penn State’s worst of the season? Should fans be alarmed about Hackenberg? And do the Nittany Lions have any chance in their season finale against Michigan State?
Bob Flounders, Andrew P. Shay and Dustin Hockensmith debate those points and more in this week’s Keystone Sports Network podcast. Check out audio from the show in this post and get plenty more podcasts and analysis on KeystoneSportsNetwork.com and by following @KSNSportsNet on Twitter.