Grading Illinois football after its 39-0 loss to Penn State

By Daily Illini Football Staff

Editor’s note: Every week, The Daily Illini football staff gives out grades following the Illinois football game. The staff will be grading offense, defense, special teams and coaching.

Offense: F

Illinois failed to get anything going on offense against Penn State. It was tough watching as quarterback Wes Lunt’s passes either fell to the ground or were overthrown, while Ke’Shawn Vaughn failed to gain any rushing yards on the rare occasions head coach Bill Cubit ran the ball.

Lunt threw for 129 yards and completed 16 of his 37 attempts. The junior averaged 3.5 yards per throw, but the catches were rare. Six different receivers caught the ball but dropped passes were trouble again. Whenever the offense gained a little momentum, the Illini either committed one of their eight penalties or failed to convert on third down — they were 6 for 21. Dionte Taylor was a bright spot at the beginning of the game and finished with four receptions for 45 yards.

The offense was one dimensional after Cubit gave up on the run game. Vaughn finished with 38 yards on 15 carries as it is clear that the head coach doesn’t have confidence in backup Henry Enyenihi. Illinois became easy to defend when Penn State knew that the Illini were going to throw.

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Defense: C

When the Illinois offense has failed to gain momentum in the past, the Illini defense has come in clutch, making plays to stop the scores. However, Saturday’s game against Penn State was a different story. The 39-0 rout was Penn State’s first Big Ten shutout since 2009.

The Nittany Lions started strong, scoring 12 points in the first quarter.

The Illini could not contain either the passing or the run game. On the passing front, Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg went 21-for-29 with 266 yards and two touchdowns. Hackenberg also caught a pass for a touchdown.

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley led the game with 142 all-purpose yards, rushing 24 times for 84 yards and a touchdown and catching  three passes for a career-high 58 yards. The Nittany Lions finished with 120 rushing yards.

Illinois sacked Hackenberg three times, but it wasn’t enough to contain his pocket presence.

Clayton Fejedelem led the Illini with 13 tackles, one TFL and one forced fumble. He is Illinois’ leading tackler.

Special Teams: C+

A bright spot to Penn State scoring in the first quarter was the Illinois special teams’ response. The Illini blocked both of Penn State’s first two extra-point attempts. It was the first time Illinois blocked two kicks in a game since 2003 and the first time the Nittany Lions had an extra point blocked since 2012. Illinois’ Rob Bain is now tied for first in the nation with Temple’s Sharif Finch with three blocked kicks.

Because of Illinois’ offensive performance, Ryan Frain punted 12 times for 457 yards, with three landing inside the 20 yard line. Illinois had no punt return yards and just 39 kickoff return yards.

Coaching: B-

Cubit did the best with what he had on offense.

The head coach gave up on the run early in the game when he saw that Vaughn struggled to create any momentum on the ground — 21 of his 38 rushing yards came on one run. The departure from the run might’ve hurt the offense but Illinois doesn’t have its playmakers. Running back Josh Ferguson remains out while both both Mike Dudek and Justin Hardee will redshirt after missing the entire season.

Illinois’ defense couldn’t adjust to Penn State’s offense. The Illini defensive line didn’t display the dominance it has up to this point this season and defensive coaches failed to adjustment to create any type of pressure on Christian Hackenberg.

Cubit and his staff managed the game well for the most part but Penn State created a big lead early on, which forced the staff to forget its gameplan and find a way to come back.

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