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Penn State blanks Illinois

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Penn State is 6-0 at home for the first time since 2008 after the Nittany Lions’ 39-0 shutout victory over Illinois on Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium.

The Lions received their Halloween treat from a trick play by quarterback Christian Hackenberg when he caught the first touchdown of his college career.

Nick Scott jumped in and tossed a perfectly placed ball into Hackenberg’s hands, who was open and waiting on the left side of the field. Hackenberg then completed the 14-yard reception into the end zone as the Lions opened the second half.

“My stomach kind of dropped,” Hackenberg said of his touchdown catch. “I didn’t think it was going to be like that. It was cool, we were able to finish it and Nick threw a great football.”

Hackenberg’s first receiving touchdown, along with Kao Farmer’s 44-yard run, brought a burst of energy into Beaver Stadium.

Hackenberg finished the game 21-of-29 for 266 yards and two touchdowns.

Freshman running back Saquon Barkley scored a touchdown by leaping out of his shoe and into the end zone while hurdling over a couple of Fighting Illini to score the team’s fourth touchdown of the game early in the fourth quarter. Barkley finished with 20 carries for 84 yards along with a touchdown.

Throughout the game, Hackenberg had his blinkers up as he kept his eyes open for any and every possible receiver. He successfully hit a variety of players, going 6-for-6 for 76 yards on Penn State's first touchdown drive on the game, which ended with a TD pass to Chris Godwin.

“This win definitely boosts our confidence,” Godwin said. “It lets us know that we’re still growing as a team. I think we’re seeing that we can come together and we can fight them no matter what adversity you come across.”

The Lions headed into the second quarter with a 12-0 lead fter two blocked extra point attempts from kicker Joey Julius, who has been struggling this season.

Offensively, Penn State receivers remained moving and open for hits from their quarterback.

Defensively, Penn State was outstanding. The furthest the Fighting Illini made it down the field during the middle of the second quarter was to Penn State’s 44 yard line. Even toward the end of the game when the Illini were threatening to score, defensive tackle Austin Johnson said the defense was looking for that shutout.

“It definitely feels good for us,” Johnson said on the defense achieving a shutout. “We’re getting better as it goes along so it’s definitely great to see a goose egg on the scoreboard.”

Hackenberg yet again showed off his quick feet when he carried the ball for a three yard gain to the 50 yard line during one of Penn State’s key drives in the second frame. He dodged three Fighting Illini to run the ball himself, which coach Franklin has previously noted he expects from his quarterback.

“Some guys are pro-style passers, some guys are dual-threat passers and some guys hurt you in all three phases and that’s Hackenberg,” Franklin said. “He can hurt you with his legs, he can hurt you as a receiver, he can hurt you as a passer.”

Towards their last drive of the first half, Penn State inched its way down the field even after Hackenberg was sacked for the third time of the game and 30th time of the season. Eventually, kicker Tyler Davis replaced Julius and set up for a 42 yard field goal that was good, making the score heading into halftime 15-0.

From then on, Penn State found its steady rhythm and kept the ball consistently moving down the field at a spirited pace. Hackenberg continued to hit a variety of receivers, giving players like Geno Lewis and Chris Godwin chances at touchdowns. Tight end Mike Gesicki said he liked how risky and open Hackenberg was being when it came to looking for open targets.

Franklin said he credits the team’s early lead to Penn State’s sharp play and looks forward to celebrating this win for the week, until the Lions hit the road to match up against Northwestern.

“I thought we started a lot cleaner as a football team this weekend,” Franklin said. “I’m pleased with the whole offense and how they battled through this game. Staying positive works.”

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