When a struggling Penn State program successfully recruited the top player in the country, a frowning valley collectively grinned. After helping the team to a BCS bowl victory in just his first season at Penn State, Derrick Williams put the Happy in Happy Valley.
However, after two consecutive subpar seasons for the Nittany Lions, Williams has not lived up to the recruiting hype. Entering his senior season in State College, Williams had something left to prove to Lion faithful.
In his first four games of 2008, Williams was showing more of the same. Although he was seeing increased touches out of the backfield, he was only able to manage two catches in each of the four games.
He flashed his lightning speed on special teams with a kick return for a touchdown versus lowly Coastal Carolina, but his offensive play left something to be desired.
Then came the matchup versus 22nd-ranked Illinois: the Big Ten opener, a full stadium whiteout, and a statement game for not only the Penn State football program as a whole, but for Derrick Williams specifically.
In this crucial game for the Nittany Lions, Williams rose to the occasion. Scoring through the air, on the ground, and on a kickoff return to the tune of "Zombie Nation," Williams compiled 241 all-purpose yards in perhaps his best game as a Nittany Lion.
Despite this outstanding effort, he has only tallied 14 catches for 188 yards and one touchdown on the season.
Considering these rather pedestrian numbers, is Derrick Williams a top flight receiver or a mere glorified return specialist?
Say what you want about his elusiveness or playmaking ability—Williams has developed into just the third receiving option for quarterback Daryll Clark. Granted, fellow receivers Jordan Norwood and Butler have been outstanding for the Nittany Lions, but Joe Paterno did not recruit Williams to be a third receiver.
Offensive coordinator Galen Hall has had to find creative ways to get Williams the ball due to his inability to get open downfield. Whether due to a lack of size, poor route-running, or inability to adjust to the wide receiver position, Williams has not lived up to expectations thus far.
With seven regular season games and a possible BCS bowl game left to play, Williams must continue to perform like he did against Illinois to put his stamp on the Nittany Lion football program, help his NFL chances, and avoid the dreaded title of "bust."