PSU defense rebounds in win
UNIVERSITY PARK Following a week in which Penn State allowed the most total yards in program history and 63 points against No. 4 Ohio State, much of the focus shifted toward the defensive side of the ball.
A week later, that defense was left celebrating on the field as it sealed the 24-17 overtime victory over Illinois.
The first play into the overtime period for the Illini offense ended the game as safety Ryan Keiser snagged a tipped ball off the hand of cornerback Adrian Amos in the end zone.
Keiser said after the game that he knew right away once he caught the ball that the game was over.
"Everybody was going nuts," he said. "Everybody just basically tackled me and just held on to me, I wasn't going anywhere. It was a great feeling."
It was obviously a different feeling from a week ago as Penn State allowed only 17 points, although while surrendering 411 yards of offense.
Keiser, who missed the game against the Buckeyes with a hand injury, said the Nittany Lions came back out and made plays as a team.
"That's what we did this week," Keiser said. "I'm just super proud of the guys. They did a great job, everybody did a great job. It was the definition of a team win."
Penn State ended the game much like it started it - with an tipped interception.
The Illini were charging down the field on their first possession, but it came to a screeching halt as cornerback Jordan Lucas grabbed a deflected ball off of Illini receiver Justin Hardee's hand.
Lucas said he knew the ball was going to be tipped, and he just waited for the ball, kept his eye on it and made the play.
That shifted the momentum as the Penn State offense took over on its own 16-yard line and marched the ball down the field for a touchdown.
Lucas also had a highlight play when Martize Barr caught a pass from Nathan Scheelhaase on third-and-11 with enough yards to pick up a first to keep the drive going. But Lucas drilled Barr near the sideline and jarred the ball loose for an incomplete pass, thus forcing the Illini to punt.
The cornerback joked he had not hit that hard since high school.
"The play, it was right there in front of me and I read it," Lucas said. "The quarterback led me right to where he was throwing the ball and I made the play."
The defense also came up big with a stop on fourth-and-1 when Illinois was knocking on the door from just 4 yards out of the end zone, trailing 14-10 early in the fourth quarter.
Scheelhaase threw a pass to Jon Davis, but linebacker Mike Hull stepped in the way and broke it up, ending the Illini threat.
Hull said he knew it was a big situation in the game, but he didn't try to press it and make a mistake.
"I was just trying to react to what I saw and play the ball," Hull said. "I didn't really want to get any piece of the receiver and I just relied on my skills and my instincts."
The defense only mustered one sack on the day, but did hold Illinois to only 90 yards rushing.
O'Brien highlighted some things to improve on, but overall was pleased with his defense, pointing out how the secondary tackled well and did not allow too many yards after a catch.
"Certainly Illinois made some plays and I think sometimes we need to tighten up our coverage and things like that," O'Brien said. "... I give our defense a lot of credit. I think they came to play today."
Illinois came into the game with the Nittany Lions winless under Tim Beckman in the Big Ten and riding a 17-game conference losing streak.
The Illini had the lead and the ball late against a Penn State defense that had no timeouts, but could not capture the elusive streak-ending Big Ten win.
"A loss is a loss. It hurts regardless [of the team,]" linebacker Jonathan Brown said, "This loss just probably stings a little bit more since it was so close."
With a three-point lead, Illinois forced Bill Belton to fumble on the Illini 2-yard line and only needed a first down to essentially end Penn State's hopes by running out the clock that showed just 3:23 left following the turnover.
Beckman's squad elected to throw the ball on first down to get another set of downs and milk the clock more, but the pass fell incomplete and stopped the clock.
Following two rushes, the Illini punted the ball to the Nittany Lions with just under two minutes left and field position at midfield.
Beckman said the final decision is his decision, and he called plays Saturday in order to win the game in the best way he thought his team could.
After the punt, Penn State worked its way into field goal range and booted the game-tying kick to send it into overtime.
It would only get worse for the Illini as they faced a touchdown deficit going into their offensive possession in overtime.
Scheelhaase risked it all and went for a game-tying throw, but had no such luck as he threw the pass into double coverage as Keiser snagged the tipped ball.
"It was a bad play on my part," Scheelhaase said. "I didn't see the corner drop back off as I was checking back. It's as simple as that."
Ficken kicks a step back
Sam Ficken, who set the Penn State record for most consecutively made field goals earlier in the year with 15, has struggled of late, making just four of his last eight attempts.
Ficken went 1-for-2 Saturday as he missed a 37-yarder in the second quarter, but booted a 35-yarder with just 41 seconds left to tie the game.
The kicker said he could have played better and he does not miss short field goals, but he got a chance to redeem himself.
"It wasn't a bad snap or hold, I think I just kind of rushed into it pushed it out there and kind of got over top of it," Ficken said. "So on the second field goal, I just kind of slowed down."
News and notes
PSU's game captains were LB Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, G Bryan Davie, WR Brandon Felder and T Adam Gress. For the second week in a row, O'Brien won the coin toss, but deferred to receive the ball to start the second half. Neither team scored on the opening offensive drive of the halves. Ben Kline got the his first career start at linebacker, while DaQuan Jones, Anthony Zettel, C.J. Olaniyan and Austin Johnson made up the defensive front. Gress started at tackle over Donovan Smith, but Smith was featured throughout the game. WR Richy Anderson returned to the lineup after not seeing the field against Ohio State.