Penn State: What We Learned from the Huge Win at Illinois

Barry LeonardAnalyst IIISeptember 29, 2012

Sep 29, 2012; Champaign, IL, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Mike Hull (43) and Penn State Nittany Lions long snapper Michael Fuhrman (44)  and Penn State Nittany Lions cornerback Jesse Della Valle (39) celebrate after Fuhrman's fumble recovery during the first quarter against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bradley Leeb-US PRESSWIRE

Penn State played a great game in Week 5, defeating Illinois 35-7. The win was the third in a row for the Lions and moved them to 3-2 on the season.

The game taught us several things about this 2012 Penn State team. Perhaps the biggest being the fact that Penn State is better than many thought they would be.

Moving forward, there are certainly improvements that need to be made. However, the core of the Penn State Nittany Lions have played very well over the last three weeks.

Below are four observations that can be taken away from the Week 5 game at Illinois


Bill O'Brien's NFL-style offense has transferred well to the college level.

 In the era of spread and option offenses, Bill O'Brien and Penn State are proving that an NFL-style passing offense can really work in college. Quarterback Matt McGloin is having a stellar season running the offense for the Lions.

McGloin didn't have the best statistical game against Illinois, but he made plays when needed and stayed away from the interception. McGloin only had one touchdown through the air, but added two rushing touchdowns for the second straight week.

For the season, McGloin has thrown for 1,217 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The Bill O'Brien offense makes use of the tight ends, using them as pass-catchers instead of just blockers. Penn State's leading receivers at Illinois were both tight ends. Matt Lehman had five catches for 70 yards and a touchdown. Kyle Carter hauled in five passes for 45 yards.

With a new emphasis on the vertical attack, it's safe to say that this isn't your grandfather's Penn State team.


The running game will be just fine without Silas Redd.

When star running back Silas Redd transferred to USC, he left a major question mark at that position for the Nittany Lions. In the early part of 2012, Penn State has struggled to find a consistent running game. However, that seemed to change against Illinois.

Heading into Week 5, the Lions ranked 95th in the nation in rushing yards, averaging just 124 yards per game. In the game against Illinois, the Lions gained 173 yards on the ground.

Bill Belton,slated to take over the rushing duties in 2012 before being injured in Week 1, returned against the Illini and carried the ball 16 times for 65 yards. Sophomore Zach Zwinak carried the ball 19 times for 100 yards and two touchdowns.

While they won't rack up a lot of yards, Penn State has found guys who can be relied on to pick up important yards when needed. Sure, losing someone the caliber of Redd hurts, but Saturday's game at Illinois showed that there are other guys on the roster who are capable of getting the job done.


Michael Mauti should be considered among the top LBs in the nation.

The senior continues to prove that he is the leader on defense. Mauti had a huge game against Illinois, coming up with two interceptions in the game and racking up 105 yards in interception returns. Mauti, who had extra motivation in the game, inspired his teammates to play hard. The Penn State defense held the Illini to just seven points.

Mauti was upset and spoke out this past summer when the Illinois coaching staff showed up on campus to recruit PSU players after the NCAA sanctions were handed down.

It's clear that Mauti does more than just make tackles; he is the team's emotional leader whose presence goes beyond the stat sheet.


Sam Ficken needs to be replaced now.

Each week, Penn State fans hope the kicking woes get better. The fact is, it's not getting any better. Kicker Sam Ficken has shown over and over again that he can't be counted on. Ficken had another poor showing in Week 5 that could lead to him losing his job.

Ficken missed two field goals against Illinois, including a chip shot at the end of the first half. The missed field goals brought his season totals to just two out of eight field goals made.

The fact that Ficken can't be counted on forces Bill O'Brien to go for it on fourth-down situations where most coaches would opt to kick. If Penn State wants to compete in the Big Ten this year, the kicking woes need to be solved.

The Lions already lost a game this year when Ficken missed four field goals in Week 2 at Virginia. He needs to be replaced now before it happens again.