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

Report Card: Penn State vs Illinois

The Nittany Lions won their Big Ten opener in convincing fashion yesterday, but there were some flaws. See how the team graded out below!


Quarterbacks:  B

Statistically, Matt McGloin had another strong game. 60% rate. 211 yards and a touchdown plus two more scores on the ground seems solid on the surface. However, McGloin looked a bit like the 2010-2011 versions at time against the Illini. He was late on a couple throws and struggled with accuracy when he gave up on his mechanics. He had all day in the pocket but seemed to rush himself at times. Still, three touchdowns and no turnovers is going to be enough to win most games this year.

Running Backs:  A

Zach Zwinak led a backfield that rushed 45 times for 202 yards on Saturday. Zwinak turned in a 100 yard performance, while starter Bill Belton returned to carry the ball 16 times for 65 yards. There was at least one play that saw Belton in the slot. Keep an eye out for that formation in the future. He adds some versatility to the offense.

Wide Receivers:  C

A pretty lackluster performance here, though it was partially due to McGloin’s struggles. As a whole, three receivers caught just 10 passes for 96 yards.

Tight Ends:  A

The tight ends made big plays for the offense all day. Matt Lehman led the way with 5 catches for 70 yards and a touchdown. Kyle Carter chipped in with another 45 yards on 3 catches. This game was well in-hand in the third quarter and there weren’t as many catches to be had, but the tight ends took advantage of their opportunities.

Offensive Line:  A

Two hundred yards rushing and McGloin had all day in the pocket. Like much of the team, the line has really progressed since week one. They are getting much better at picking up the blitz and some of the holes that Zwinak was running through were very impressive.


Defensive Line: A

The line was in on three sacks Saturday and kept Scheelhaase under pressure most of the day. Minus one rushing play that went for 52 yards, the line kept the running game in check, allowing 22 yards on 21 carries. They seem to have figured out how to defend the zone-read better than they had early in the year.

Linebackers: A+

Michael Mauti was named the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week after his two-interception, half sack performance and Gerald Hodges quietly chipped in 9 tackles of his own.

Secondary: B

The trick play caught Penn State off guard, allowing the lone touchdown. Other than that, the PSU secondary did a good job of “bending but not breaking.” Stephen Obeng-Agyapong is terrific in run support and Adrian Amos is evolving into a great defensive player.

Special Teams: B

Sam Ficken’s inability to kick anything through the uprights that isn’t an extra point may very well cost Penn State another win this season. I guess if you’re going to have a kicking unit like this one, it might as well be in a bowl-ineligible season. The punt unit forced a big turnover and Butterworth didn’t shank anything.

For all of the latest on the Penn State Nittany Lions, follow VBR Lead Editor Tim Tolley on Twitter.

Tags: Football Illinois Fighting Illlini Penn State Nittany Lions

  • Willie Green

    The WRs don’t deserve a lower grade than McGloin.
    As you noted, their lackluster performance was as much his fault as their’s, so they should at least get the same grade.
    Compromise and either give them both a C+ or B-.

    • Tim Tolley

      McGloin accounted for three touchdowns. That’s worth a higher grade to me.

    • AP

      I would argue that they didn’t perform because McGloin didn’t perform (in the air).

  • luigi

    Based on past ratings, cannot really quibble too much; but based on our cupcake schedule, continually overrating. We should be sitting 5-0 and not 3-2.
    Some interesting facts on our offensive reawakening. We are currently ranked #7 in the Big 10 in offensive scoring and nationally our ranking is #75. Yet, we are told we have an offensive juggernaut. So, why do we have a winning record, look at our defense. In defensive scoring, we are ranked #2 in the Big Ten and 11th nationally.
    With our schedule increasing in difficulty, we can expect our teams to put more points up on us and we should not score as much. If we wish to finish north of a .500 record, the offense needs to pick it up and score more, while the defense needs to continue to hold the line.
    Simple as that.

    • Tim Tolley

      This team is worlds away from the team that hosted Ohio in week one. Also, PSU would be scoring an additional 4 points per game if Ficken had made all of his kicks.
      Lastly, PSU could have scored more each of the last three weeks but ran out the clock instead. Can’t really judge the points per game when they’re running the ball on 80% of the snaps in the 4th.
      All they need to do is score enough points to win, and they’re doing that.

      • luigi

        And Ohio is the only winning team that they faced. I am sure many other teams could make the same arguments if this or that happened, they would score more. If the offense does not up its game, the losses will start mounting. We are scoring just enough to beat lousy teams. That philosophy will not work as we face the teeth of our schedule.
        The real question is are we world’s away because we improved or as stated, the competition stinks? I think we shall soon find out.

        • Tim Tolley

          “Penn State stopped trying because they were up by four scores” is hardly an excuse.

          • Tim Tolley

            And their average margin of victory is 22. Not exactly “just enough.”

          • luigi

            Do you know what we averaged in scoring last year through our first five games? 23.2 ppg and that includes the Alabama game (remove that game and our scoring jumps to 27.5 ppg), an opponent none so far this year comes even close to. This year so far, we are averaging 24.6 ppg. Not that much of a difference. Last year, our offensive deficiencies showed against the stronger teams, as evidenced by the ‘Bama game; and as the season wore on, the team scored less and less. As of now, we are a middling offensive scoring team and if it continues, we will struggle to win more than six games.

          • Tim Tolley

            To be clear, if Penn State had punched in a touchdown at the end of the first half Saturday, then went on to beat Illinois 42-7 instead of 35-7, that would make them a better team in your eyes? They’d be averaging like 1.3 more points per game- and that’s what it’s all about, right?

            Here are some teams average scores, thus far in the season:
            Stanford: 26-15.3 (8.7 margin of victory)
            Mich: 28.5-23 (4.5 margin of victory)
            PSU: 24.6-13.6 (11 margin of victory)

            Notre Dame: 25.8-9 (16.8 margin of victory)
            USC : 33-17.3 (15.7 margin of victory)
            Florida: 30.5-12.8 (17.7 margin of victory)

            UNC: 43.2-14.6 (28.6 margin of victory)

            Based on those stats and your theory, 3-2 UNC is a stronger team headed into October than Florida, USC, Stanford, and Notre Dame-all top 15 teams.

            Those numbers simply don’t tell enough of the story. Would you agree?
            Do you think UNC has a better offense than every one of those teams? No.
            Do you think that Penn State is as close to Stanford as those stats would suggest? No.
            I don’t just come on here and start typing, I watch a ton of college football on Saturdays and Sundays. I also don’t factor in what Rob Bolden did against the Indian State Sycamores last September when deciding how good Penn State is this October. You’d be wise to take my lead on that.

          • luigi

            Well besides me and Willie, this site doesn’t get much traffic, so why the insult? I have been following and watching football for over forty years and have a pretty good grasp on things. Do I see eye to eye with you, no.
            The point I am making which you seem unable to grasp is that until this team plays some higher quality football programs, we cannot judge its ultimate success. You fail to factor in the quality of this year’s opponents. We are a 3-2 team against slop. Since when is that acceptable?

          • Tim Tolley

            Attacking your weak argument isn’t an insult on you personally. My angle is that Penn State is much better than they were in week one. No statistics change that. It’s evident. 3-2 became acceptable when the NCAA opened up Penn State to free agency and it cost them their best player as well as Fera and Brown. If you didn’t lower your expectations in August, you were fooling yourself.
            Also, don’t judge traffic by comments.

          • luigi

            Defining excellence down? Maybe in years two or three of the sanctions but not now.
            The past is relevant as we have seen this rodeo before, beating up on inferior teams and then fading down the stretch. We should get a good idea if this may continue (into the present) this weekend, with Northwestern on tap.
            Interesting that you take umbrage with my use of scoring stats for the offense but not the defense. Do you only object if the stats do not fit your pre-conceived notions? And if you think if we continue as the 75th ranked offensive scoring team in the nation we will win more games then lose from here on out, you are in for a rude awakening.

          • Tim Tolley

            I only object to stats that mean nothing, like how many points teams are scoring in garbage time against teams like Eastern Michigan. You know Wisconsin is only averaging 22 pts per game? Crazy that they scored MORE than that against Nebraska. The defense is probably better than those stats represent, as well, since you mention it. I think they’re flawed, but a trick play from Illinois, a tipped pass against Ohio and a late, meaningless touchdown from Temple…hell, they should be allowing like 9 points per game. Does that make them all of a sudden a better team?
            Last thing I’m going to add-the schedule doesn’t get all that tough. The Big Ten is bad and there might be just one top 15 opponent left for Penn State to play.

          • luigi

            So when you make a statement (in a previous post) that Matt McGloin is having a career year because his QB rating is 135 that is not doing the same thing as you are using a stat that means nothing? First of all, it wasn’t true as his QB rating from the year before at the comparable time was better and second the rating was padded from the Navy game (211 rating for that game). That team barely had a pulse, so Matt is having a career year because he inflated his stats against a horrible opponent? It would be like me and you playing a pick up game against a couple of ten year olds and beating the snot out of them and high fiving each other afterwards as to how great we are.
            Stats can say alot of things and reinforce one’s belief one way or the other. The most important one is wins and losses; and right now we are a middling team – we should not pretend otherwise. Yes, the Big Ten is down but so are we. Even with that said, these teams we are about to face (except Indiana) have a pulse and if we can win our fair share of these games it would go along way to proving we are a good team.

          • AP

            @f4141ac5e06cbecf7ef1070e4f3569ff:disqus You can’t simply look at wins and losses right now. A new coaching staff, including a head coach who has never been a head coach at any level in his life. Add in the loss of depth as recently as… well, actually into the season and you’ve got a recipe for a shaky start, which is what we’ve seen. Stats can be skewed a lot of different ways this early in the season, including padding against lesser opponents and un-padding when you take your foot off of the gas as early as the 3rd quarter.

            This team has continued to improve each week and I honestly don’t believe they’ve hit their stride yet. The defense was incredibly shaky the first 2 games, yet have solidified every area since then. Will they be tested more going into the B1G season? Of course, but they also have an understanding of the system and their assignments better than they did in week 1. If not for the secondary, this could be a top 10 defense in the nation.

          • luigi

            Are they improving or was the competition just morbibound? If we win the next couple of weeks over Northwestern and Iowa, I would agree with you that the team is makiing strides. If not, these last few weeks have been a mirage.

          • AP

            Illinois > Temple > Navy, so they’ve improved each week despite the fact that the competition has gotten better (even if only slightly). I agree, though, that the next few weeks will really tell us a lot.