STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Illinois defeated Penn State 20-18 in the first nine-overtime football game in NCAA history, ending the game with a two-point conversion pass from backup quarterback Brandon Peters to Casey Washington.
No. 7 Penn State, which entered the game as a 24-point favorite, failed on six of its seven two-point attempts in the new overtime format. After trading a pair of field goals in the first two overtimes, Penn State and Illinois attempted just the conversions. They combined for 10 consecutive unsuccessful tries, which included trick plays, stuff runs and dropped passes.
But after Illinois' Khalan Tolson broke up a pass intended for Penn State's Parker Washington in the ninth overtime, Illinois ended the game with its backup quarterback.
Peters entered in overtime for starter Artur Sitkowski, who sustained an arm injury in the fourth overtime. Illinois also played most of the overtime without running back Chase Brown, who ran 33 times for 223 yards.
Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker dropped a prime chance to end the game on Illinois' first overtime possession, when he couldn't hold an interception on a trick-play throw to Sitkowski.
Penn State lost for the second straight season as a favorite of at least 20 points. The Lions fell to Maryland 35-19 last season after being favored by 27.5 points. Before that, Penn State had won 26 straight games when favored by at least 20 points.
Penn State's Run Defense Withers
Penn State entered the game with the Big Ten's fourth-ranked run defense, one that had not allowed more than 182 yards rushing this season. Illinois' Chase Brown (223) topped that himself, becoming the first player to rush for 200 yards against Penn State since Indiana's BenJarvus Green-Ellis (203 in 2003).
Though Penn State certainly missed defensive tackle PJ Mustipher, the run-defense breakdowns were alarming. Illinois beat Penn State with big fronts, a physical line and the combined gymnastics of Brown and Josh McCray (142 yards).
The duo combined for three carries of 20+ yards. Penn State had allowed just three 20+ gains in its first six games combined. Further, Illinois has 12 run plays of 10+ yards, averaged a stunning 5.5 yards per carry in regulation and beat Penn State multiple times with the quarterback sneak.
Illinois entered the game with 14 touchdowns this season, tied for the fewest (with Wisconsin) in the Big Ten. Asking the Illini to score three touchdowns on one series proved too much — and gave the Lions a necessary lifeline.
Sitkowski hit tight end Daniel Barker on a lovely throwback touchdown pass (Barker crossed the formation and was uncovered), but Illinois committed pass interference and had an ineligible receiver downfield.
Two plays later, Brown apparently scored on a 14-yard run, but the touchdown came back because of holding. Illinois settled for a field goal to tie the game at 10.
The Lions announced Clifford as the starter before the game at Beaver Stadium, ending a week of speculation during which head coach James Franklin declined to name one. Franklin said that quarterbacks Clifford, Ta'Quan Roberson and Christian Veilleux took equal practice reps Wednesday, when he called the situation "fluid."
Clifford completed his first four passes, including a 42-yard touchdown throw to KeAndre Lambert-Smith, but struggled thereafter. He missed six straight at one point, looked tentative on occasion and clearly sought to avoid big hits (even though he took some).
Late in the fourth quarter, Clifford uncharacteristically slid down behind the line of scrimmage when the play broke down. The play ultimately led to a punt, and the game went to overtime.
Clifford, who is making his 26th career start, practiced this week, though Franklin offered little regarding the quarterback's injury or recovery time. Franklin said that the team would have missed Clifford's leadership on the field ("To understate that would not be accurate," he said), adding that the quarterback was a constant presence in the football building this week.
"He kind of lives in there, watching film and obviously getting treatment and doing everything he possibly can to put him in the best possible position to get back as soon as possible, whenever that may be," Franklin said.