Penn State escapes with OT win
Penn State coach Bill O'Brien was ornery in his postgame press conference Saturday. Some might say angry.
But it wasn't directed at the officials, who called 11 penalties on the Nittany Lions, or at Illinois coach Tim Beckman, with whom he has a history. And O'Brien most certainly wasn't angry with his players — even after a less-than-inspiring performance against a team that hasn't won a Big Ten game in more than two years.
“There is no ugly win,” O'Brien said through clenched teeth after the Nittany Lions' 24-17 overtime triumph against Illinois.
“I don't feel ‘fortunate' — ‘fortunate' is when you win the lottery. ... To me, we went out there and did what we had to do to win the football game.”
The Nittany Lions needed a Sam Ficken field goal with 41 seconds to play in regulation and Kyle Carter's 15-yard touchdown reception from Christian Hackenberg during their first overtime possession.
Ryan Keiser intercepted Nathan Scheelhaase in the end zone on the first play of Illinois' overtime possession to cap the win for the Nittany Lions, who have yet to lose consecutive games under O'Brien.
Allen Robinson had 165 receiving yards, and Bill Belton ran for 201 yards as Penn State (5-3, 2-2) edged a team that has lost five of six overall and 18 consecutive to Big Ten opponents. The maligned Nittany Lions defense gave up 411 yards to an Illinois team (3-5, 0-4) that managed just 128 yards last week in a 42-3 loss at home to Michigan State.
Then again, the Lions were coming off an even worse beatdown: 63-14 at Ohio State.
“We had a great practice week, probably one of the best practice weeks of the season,” defensive end Anthony Zettel said. “We came into the game feeling really confident. There was some suffering during the game, but we got the win. That is all that matters.”
The Illinois offense — playing without receiver Ryan Lankford, who is out for the season — had five drives that lasted at least 10 plays and four that covered more than 56 yards. Illini running back Josh Ferguson had 107 total yards and both of his team's touchdowns, and Scheelhaase finished 33 for 52 for 321 yards.
“It goes back to that old saying, ‘Bend but don't break,' ” Penn State linebacker Glenn Carson said. “They move the ball down the field, and we just did a good enough job of not giving them the end zone too much.”
Still, the Illini took a 17-14 lead — its first during the second half of Big Ten play over a 13-game span — with 5:30 to play.
The Nittany Lions missed a chance to tie or take the lead when Belton fumbled at the Illini 2-yard line with 3:30 left. But Illinois went three-and-out, and Penn State took over at the 50 and quickly drove into range for Ficken, who earlier missed from 37 yards.
That set up the third consecutive overtime conference game at Beaver Stadium. A holding penalty wiped out a Belton 5-yard touchdown run and forced a third-and-11 from the 15.
O'Brien called one of his favorite plays, one with multiple options.
“Watching that play on film with the Patriots, it looked pretty similar to the type of windows (Tom) Brady's used,” Hackenberg said. “I'm not saying I'm anything near Brady, but it looked pretty good, and I felt confident, and I thought, ‘What the heck.' Kyle made a great catch.”
Robinson continued a season in which he could challenge for All-American consideration with 11 catches. He surpassed 2,000 career receiving yards and moved into fourth place on the school's receiving yardage list.
“I told the team in the locker room right now, ‘Congratulations on the win. I'm really happy for you, but I do believe we can be a better football team,' ” O'Brien said.
Just don't call them a fortunate one.