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Penn State cruises past Illinois in college football, 56-21

Penn State’s season is over.

The Nittany Lions buried Illinois, 56-21, Saturday at Beaver Stadium, their fourth-straight win after an 0-5 start, and an hour later announced they will be bypassing a bowl bid.

The decision was made by the players and “fully supported” by coach James Franklin and athletic director Sandy Barbour.

“Our student-athletes have made tremendous sacrifices this season in order to play the game they love,” Barbour said. “Because of their commitment to our process and protocols, we have remained healthy and are one of two teams in the Big Ten Conference to play in all nine scheduled games. Very few teams have handled playing during the pandemic as well as our program has, which fills me with Penn State pride.

“Our student-athletes will now have the opportunity for a well-deserved break to enjoy time with their families before returning for the spring semester. I would also like the recognize all of the coaches and support staff members who have also made numerous sacrifices of their own for our student-athletes to compete this fall and moving forward.”

Franklin’s family has been in Florida since the pandemic begin in March to protect his daughter, Addison, who has sickle cell anemia.

“I couldn’t be more proud and encouraged by how our team conducted itself during this unprecedented season. One of our four core values is a willingness to sacrifice, and our student-athletes, coaches and staff have all made incredible sacrifices both on and off the field in order for us to compete this year,” Franklin said. “This has been a challenging nine months, but we are proud of how our student-athletes have navigated these difficult times.”

Franklin said the team met after Saturday’s game to resolve the bowl.

“As you know, we rely on our captains and Leadership Council to provide a voice for our team, and our student-athletes made the difficult choice not to participate in a bowl this year in order to spend time with loved ones,” he said. “We are fully supportive of their decision, knowing it has been many months since our students-athletes have been able to spend time with their families and the challenges they endured, both physically and mentally. This will be an opportunity for our guys to go home, see family and recharge for the spring semester.”

Against Illinois, the Lions scored twice in the game’s first five minutes — on a 75-yard touchdown catch-and-run by Jahan Dotson on the game’s first play followed shortly by Lamont Wade’s 100-yard kickoff return.

After Illinois took a 21-14 lead, the Lions carried the second quarter 21-0 and rolled off 42 unanswered points over the final three quarters.

Dotson again stood out, gaining 189 yards on six receptions and two touchdowns – adding a 70-yarder as well — to go with a 50-yard punt return.

Sean Clifford completed 16-of-22 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns.

Keyvone Lee was the Lions’ top rusher with 85 yards on 19 carries and a TD and fellow true freshman Caziah Holmes added 77 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries.

The Lions improved their record to 4-5, their first sub.-500 season since 2004.

Illinois finished the season 2-6. Before the game, Illinois announced it had hired Bret Bielema as its new head coach.

Bielema, former head coach at Wisconsin (2006-12) and Arkansas (2013-17) who spent this season as linebackers coach with the New York Giants, drove to State College on Saturday morning and was on the Illinois sidelines.

Bielema replaces Lovie Smith, who was fired last week.

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