Fighting Illini Reveal Penn State's Defense Is Vulnerable

Ryan StaloffContributor ISeptember 28, 2008

Through the first four games of the regular season, Penn State appeared to be clicking on all cylinders.

The Nittany Lions' 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 Cappelletti.

Linebacker U appeared to be back and better than ever as the team's defense was ranked among the top 10 in nearly all top 10 defensive categories, including third in the nation in sacks.

With their first major challenge coming last night against Illinois, Penn State finally had a chance to prove their dominance was real.

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 more than 200 yards collectively against the Illini. 

The offense continued to shine, as the team scored 38 points.

The defense, however, could not say the same.  Saturday's performance featured lack of quarterback pressure, soft run defense, and blown coverages. 

The defense 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 Dufrene. 

The secondary that has shut down receivers in the team’s previous four games this season allowed Arrelious Benn to roam free downfield, en route to 110 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

Year after year, Penn State is known for outstanding defense.  Jack Ham, Shane Conlan, Dan Connor, and Paul Posluszny are just some of the greats who have walked through the tunnel into Beaver Stadium.  With Sean Lee on the sidelines with a torn ACL, this team does not have this type of talent.

Navorro 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 acquiring another Big Ten Championship banner.