Penn State won in overtime against a Big Ten opponent in Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
The 24-17 Penn State win over Illinois marked the third straight overtime win within conference play for the Nittany Lions on their home field — dating back to the 2012 season finale against Wisconsin.
The most recent episode of extended football didn’t reach the pandemonium level of the Lions four-overtime win against Michigan just two weeks prior. But, players said the four-hour long contest with the Wolverines did better prepare Penn State for the extra frame against the Illini.
“We all said, ‘We’ve been here before. We know what to do,’ ” said tight end Kyle Carter, who caught the go-ahead touchdown in overtime. “So it wasn’t anything new. We were all comfortable. And I was just wondering about finishing it in the first overtime, not the fourth.”
Carter admitted he felt the Lions “played down” to the Illini, who are now 0-4 in Big Ten play. Yet, a refusal to panic late in the game led to another game-tying drive with less than two minutes remaining — the second such drive quarterback Christian Hackenberg and company have executed in as many home games.
The overtime session was capped by a Ryan Keiser interception, which linebacker Mike Hull said he was relieved to see occur before the extended play continued much longer.
“I was like, ‘Here we go again,’ ” Hull said. “I didn’t know how long it was going to take, but I knew we were going to get the job done.”
Day to remember
Offense: RB Bill Belton
Though Allen Robinson had another 150-yard day to put himself over the century mark on the season, the receiver likely wouldn’t have found himself quite so open if it weren’t for the career day from Belton. In his second start of the season, the running back gained 201 rushing yards on 36 carries (5.6 yards per carry) to anchor a run-first strategy against the Illini.
Defense: S Ryan Keiser
The defensive back totaled just one tackle and didn’t even get the start Saturday, but Keiser made the most of an opportunity to seal the win in overtime. The former walk-on didn’t have to demonstrate much physical ability in the process, but the safety benefited from an Adrian Amos deflection to grab the game-winning interception in the end zone.
Day to forget
Offense: RB Akeel Lynch
The redshirt freshman did not see the field once on Saturday. Some felt Lynch may be more likely to enter the game with Zach Zwinak’s continued ball-handling issues, but Zwinak appeared to still be O’Brien’s next option after Belton. Lynch will likely have to reassert his ability in practice to get himself back into the mix.
Defense: LB Nyeem Wartman
In a similar fashion, the redshirt freshman linebacker saw less of the field on Saturday as well. Wartman had maintained the starting weakside linebacker position for six of the previous seven games, but a healthier Ben Kline — who got the start and totaled eight tackles — appeared to step into that starting position seamlessly.
Allen Robinson’s 11-catch, 165-yard day moved the junior receiver to fifth on the all-time Penn State receptions list, and fourth in receiving yards. He now needs just 42 more yards to break Bobby Engram’s record of 1,084 receiving yards in a season.
Did you notice?
Offensive lineman Donovan Smith did not get the start at left tackle for Penn State for just the second time in his 18-game career. Smith did see the field for several series, but Adam Gress was the primary protector of Hackenberg’s backside in the game.
“I don't feel fortunate,” coach Bill O’Brien said after Penn State won despite making many mistakes. “Fortunate is when you win the lottery, like, ‘I won $50 million dollars. I'm fortunate to win the lottery.’ ”
John Stuetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (814) 865-1828. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnStuetz_PSU.