The Nittany Lions took the lead early -- then never gave it up. In Bill O’Brien’s Big Ten debut, Penn State was impressive, dismantling Illinois, 35-7 at Memorial Stadium. The Nittany Lions are now 3-2 heading into next week’s homecoming game against undefeated Northwestern.
Here’s a quick look at how it all went down on Saturday:
It was over when: Matt McGloin scored on a quarterback sneak with 3:15 remaining in the third quarter. The touchdown -- McGloin’s fourth rushing score in the past two games -- gave Penn State a 28-7 lead and effectively squashed any momentum Illinois accumulated after the break. The eight play, 57-yard scoring drive followed a three-and-out by Penn State’s defense. That was a back-to-back blow the Fighting Illini simply could not recover from.
Play of the game: Think there’s a runaway winner for this category. Mike Mauti, Penn State’s rugged senior leader, stole the show with his end zone interception in the waning seconds of the second half. The linebacker then streaked down the sideline, evading several defenders. Mauti ran for 99 yards -- a great call by the refs to determine his knee went down on the one yard line -- which was the longest interception return in Penn State history. It broke Wayne Berfield’s 98-yard record set in 1958. Miss the play? not a problem. You’ll probably see it on Sportscenter again and again this weekend.
Player of the game: Hard to pick anyone but Mauti here. It’s perhaps fitting, too, because Mauti was the most outspoken Nittany Lion this offseason in criticizing Illinois coaches for recruiting Penn State players. Mauti was angry -- and his retaliation was a signature performance on the field. He finished with two interceptions, six tackles and is credited with a half of a sack. He also entered the conversation as an early front-runner for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
Surprise of the game: It was the first time since the season-opener that all of Penn State’s running backs were healthy. So it was perhaps a surprise that Zach Zwinak was the Nittany Lions’ best back on Saturday. Bill Belton was solid in his return, but Zwinak - who wasn’t much of a factor in Penn State’s first four games -- was the star. The junior exploded for a career-high 100 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns. The touchdowns were Penn State’s first rushing touchdowns by a running back this season. He was also the Nittany Lion’s first 100-yard rusher since Silas Redd posted 137 yards against Illinois last season. Could this be the emergence of a new threat in the backfield for Penn State? O’Brien certainly wouldn’t mind having a few more options.
Stat of the game: The Illini completed just 4-of-15 third down attempts in the game and 1-of-3 fourth down attempts. Partly a testament to Penn State’s strong defensive effort, but also indicative of Illinois’ sloppiness. Either way, tells the story of the game.