Penn State 56, Illinois 21: Lions Roll To Close Out Regular Season

By Matthew Filipovits on December 19, 2020 at 9:19 pm
Dec 19, 2020; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) looks to throw a pass during the second quarter against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
© Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Somehow, someway, Penn State football has made it to the end of the regular season. It hasn't always been easy, but the Nittany Lions ended on a high note by steamrolling Illinois to win their fourth straight contest. Here are some final thoughts on the regular-season finale:

Penn State's offense looks like it's finally Figured things out

Kirk Ciarrocca's tenure got off to a rough start. Penn State's offense looked dismal in the early goings, a byproduct of below-average offensive line play and a quarterback room that looked scared to take shots. But today, in their ninth game of the season, the offense finally looked like it knew what it was doing.

Sean Clifford and Jahan Dotson set the tone with an easy pitch and catch for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of scrimmage and never looked back. While this isn't the perfect offense, it's easy to see what KC has been trying to do and now enough time and practices have passed to where they can finally put the gameplan in action. 

Brent Pry NEeds to be better

It's hard to find a lot to complain about when your team wins by five touchdowns, but Brent Pry's defense underperformed tonight, especially early. The story has always been the poor secondary play, but that unit played pretty well without Joey Porter Jr. and Tariq Castro-Fields. The Illini don't exactly have any world beaters under center so take that with a grain of salt.

The issues for Penn State's defense came from the inability to stop the run, especially when Illini quarterback Isaiah Williams kept the ball. Williams finished with 102 yards on the ground on just 15 carries, giving him an average of an almost nice 6.8 yards per carry. It's not that this one game is enough to warrant a coaching change, but Pry's entire body of work this season left a lot to be desired. 

With all of that said, after giving up 199 yards in the first quarter, the defense surrendered just 74 in the game's final 45 minutes, with plenty of youngsters seeing time in the game's later stages.

FUn Farewells

This season had to have been impossibly hard on these players, especially the seniors. This group missed out on their last Whiteout, Senior Day, and countless other things that I'm sure other teams have taken for granted. But today was the perfect ending for a lot of guys who deserved to have some fun in their final game in Beaver Stadium.

Lamont Wade has been clamoring to take over kick return duties and man, did he deliver. The former blue-chip corner has had an up and down career, but that return shows just how much playmaking ability he has. Antonio Shelton has played a lot football and has been as solid as they come. The fifth-year senior came up with a big sack in the second half and had one of the best celebrations of the season. He's played his best football over the past few weeks and he's a presence that will be greatly missed in that locker room.

And then there's Jahan Dotson. The outstanding wide receiver can still come back for his senior season, but if he does opt to forgo his final season, this was a fantastic finale. The Lehigh Valley native did it all on Saturday and no doubt boosted his draft stock. He was exactly what Penn State needed this season and is a guy we all probably didn't appreciate enough.

Penn State has still not decided if they will play a bowl game or not, but a decision is expected to be made this weekend. Hopefully, we get to see these guys wear the Blue and White one more time.

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