Illinois 20, Penn State 18: Nittany Lions Fall to Illini in Nine Overtimes

By Joel Neuschwander on October 23, 2021 at 4:28 pm
Oct 23, 2021; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) runs with the ball avoiding Illinois Fighting Illini linebacker Owen Carney Jr. (99) during the first half at Beaver Stadium.
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

In one of the ugliest Penn State football games of all time, the Nittany Lions suffered their second consecutive loss in an absolutely brutal fashion.

We'll have much more on this game in the next few days, but for now, here are the three biggest takeaways from the Nittany Lions' 20-18 nine-overtime loss to the Fighting Illini.

Clifford's health in question, offense disappears

Coming off injury, it was reasonable to expect Sean Clifford to not look like his normal self right away. To say he did not look like his normal self against the Illini would be an understatement. Clearly, something was wrong. Clifford was out-of-rhythm on a number of his throws, and didn't display his usual bravado when pressured in the pocket. He got hit much more than he needed to, and was seen clutching his side several times.

Of course, a run game with a pulse would've helped Penn State's efforts on offense, but the Nittany Lions didn't have that either.

Illini run game rules the day

Getting out-gained by nearly 300 yards on the ground is never a good sign. Chase Brown and Josh McCray gave Illinois a fearsome one-two punch that the Illini rode for a pair of lengthy scoring drives.

Penn State's well-documented run game issues continued Saturday, not giving the Nittany Lions anything to lean on with Clifford at less than 100%.

lions can't take advantage of turnovers

The offense may have been awful, but they certainly had their chances.

Penn State forced three Illini turnovers Saturday — and two of them gave the Nittany Lions the ball in Illinois territory. The blue and white scored a combined three points on those possessions, including a missed 40-yard field goal from Jordan Stout.

While those missed opportunities came back to haunt Penn State, it was the turnovers the Nittany Lions didn't force — like near-picks by Ellis Brooks at the end of the first half and Jaquan Brisker in the first overtime — that could've been the difference.

Take as much time as you need to process what just unfolded. Penn State is now 5-2 and will be playing a primetime game at Ohio State in seven days.