Through the first four games of the regular season, Penn State appeared to be clicking on all cylinders. The Nittany Lion offense brought back memories of the dominant teams of 1994 and 2005. Darryl Clark was excelling at the quarterback position, and Evan Royster was drawing comparisons to John Capilleti. Linebacker U appeared back and better than ever as the team’s defense ranked amongst the top ten in nearly all top ten defensive categories, including third in the nation in sacks.
With their first major challenge coming last night versus Illinois, Penn State finally had a chance to prove it was for real. The offense continued to shine, as the team scored 38 points. Darryl Clark played phenomenally in a big game, something former quarterback Anthony Morelli never was able to accomplish in his time at Happy Valley. The running game continued to plow over opposing defenses, as the team ran for over 200 yards collectively against the Illini. The offense continued to dominate, scoring 38 points. The defense, however, could not say the same.
Lack of quarterback pressure, soft run defense, blown coverages. The perceived dominant Nittany Lion defense showed all of these vulnerabilities against the Fighting Illini. The defense that ranked third in the nation with 15 sacks coming into the game, was only able to get to Juice Williams once. The nationally renowned “Linebacker U” allowed 189 rushing yards, including 96 to the inexperienced running back Daniel Dufreene. The secondary that has shut down receivers in the team’s previous four games allowed Arellious Benn to roam free down field, en route to 110 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Year after year, Penn State is known for outstanding defense. Jack Ham, Shane Conlan, Dan Connor, Paul Posluzny are just some of the great names that have walked through the locker room in Beaver Stadium. With Sean Lee on the sidelines with a torn ACL, this team does not have this type of talent. Navarro Bowman flew all over the field on Saturday. Maurice Evans contributed in his return from suspension with a sack. However, this defense as a whole must improve. if Penn State plans on hanging another Big Ten Championship banner from the rafters of Beaver Stadium.
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