CHAMPAIGN — Penn State coach James Franklin was fine without scoring a bunch of style points on its first road trip of the season.
Cam Miller, Abdul Carter, Daequan Dixon and Johnny Hardy had interceptions and No. 7 Penn State took advantage of five turnovers by Illinois to beat the Illini 30-13 Saturday.
The Nittany Lions (3-0, 1-0 Big Ten) overcame a sub-par effort by Drew Allar, who completed just 16 of 33 passes for 208 yards, and the offense. The second-year quarterback connected on 78% of his passes in his first two games.
Allar’s struggles didn’t concern Penn State coach James Franklin.
“This was a beautiful win. Anytime you can win on the road in the Big Ten, especially in an 11 o’clock game in front of big crowd, it’s pretty,” Franklin said. “We grinded it out, especially in the first half. We didn’t take control then, but we didn’t lose control.”
Luke Altmyer was intercepted four times before he was benched, and running back Josh McCray lost a fumble for Illinois (1-2, 0-1), which has lost two straight.
“We held them to 62 yards rushing. That shouldn’t be overlooked,” Franklin said. “We also won the third-down game and the field position game.”
Altmyer completed 15 of 28 passes for 163 yards. John Paddock relieved and was 10 of 16 for 129 yards and a touchdown, a 19-yard pass in the fourth quarter to Malik Elzy.
It appears Altmyer’s starting job is safe despite his troubles Saturday.
“We didn’t give Luke a good enough game plan to be successful,” said Illinois coach Bret Bielema. “What I didn’t like were his early down interceptions, especially on our first drive of the second half.”
Penn State took the ball away three times in the first half, but had trouble getting into the end zone, settling for a 16-7 lead on three field goals by Alex Felkins and a 4-yard touchdown run by Kaytron Allen.
Illinois closed the gap to 13-7 on a touchdown run by Reggie Love, who bulled his way into the end zone from five yards out. Love’s TD was set up by a blocked field goal by Jer’Zhan Newton.
Franklin was happy with his offensive line, which had its hands full with the All-American Newton, who was involved in six tackles.
“We wanted to block Jer’Zhan, and we did,” he said.
After a three-and-out by Penn State to start the second half, Altmyer connected with Isaiah Williams on a 32-yard pass to the Nittany Lions 25. But Dixon picked off an Altmeyer pass on the next play.
“I still like this football team,” Bielema said. “Our theme this week was to identify, adjust and excel, and we didn’t do that against a good team. Next week is another opportunity to get better. We’ve still got nine games left.”
Penn State pulled away in the second half, scoring on a halfback pass from 11 yards out from Trey Potts to Tyler Warren and Nick Singleton’s 16-yard run that made it 30-7 early in the fourth quarter.
Penn State: Penn State has scored 30 or more points in 10 straight games, the longest streak in the country. Give credit to the Nittany Lions’ defense for keeping the streak alive.
Illinois: Five turnovers isn’t a recipe for beating the No. 7-ranked team in the country. Neither is falling behind for the third straight game.
Many in the orange-clad crowd of 49,099 started heading for the exits early in the fourth quarter of the nationally televised game.
“I’m disappointed for our fans,” Bielema said. “We really wanted to play well for them.”
GAIN ON A LOSS
Penn State extended its streak of having at least six tackles for loss to 11 games, longest in the nation. The Nittany Lions had three sacks.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions play host to Iowa next week.
Illinois: The Illini will end their non-conference schedule next week when they host Florida Atlantic.