For years, the staple of the Penn State football program has been its defense. Linebacker U prides itself not only on its history of producing NFL quality linebackers, but also on great secondary and greater defensive line.
On Saturday night it was the offense, and more specifically Derrick Williams, that led the Nittany Lions to victory over No.22 Illinois in a wet Beaver Stadium.
The Penn State defense looked as though they were on their heels all night, trying desperately to keep up with Illinois's no-huddle spread offense that's led by senior quarterback Juice Williams. They still managed to hold the Fighting Illini to just 24 points.
The return of suspended defensive linemen Abe Koroma and Maurice Evans came just in time, as they provided quality relief when the defense got worn down by the quick Illinois no-huddle offense. The Nittany Lions surrendered a season high 372 yards of total offense, dividing them evenly between rushing and passing (183 yds each).
Sophomore standout wide receiver Arrelious Benn also had a career day against the Nittany Lions pulling in four catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Daniel Dufrene also had 93 yards on the ground for the Illini before getting injured in the fourth quarter. Despite these numbers, the Penn State defense did just enough to keep Illinois at bey while the offense did their job.
For as mediocre as the Penn State defense looked, the '08 Penn State offense again showed why they deserve to be compared to those of 1994 and 2005.
The new Spread HD mixed with some traditional Penn State "up-the-middle" rushing did the trick for the Nittany Lions, as Evan Royster again rolled up a 139 yard rushing performance. Royster, however, managed to lower his yards-per-carry average by nearly a yard, to 7.3 ypc.
By far the biggest story of the game though, was Derrick Williams's monster game, where he accrued 241 all purpose yards (133 of which were on kickoff returns) and three touchdowns (one of each rushing, receiving, and kick return). It was because of this strong offensive showing that the Nittany Lions are still generally considered the top of the Big Ten.
Around college football, there were many big goings on in and around the Top 10 in the polls that would affect Penn State's rankings for Week Six. One would have to be living in a cave if they didn't hear of No.1 ranked USC getting knocked off in Corvalis by Oregon State, and their orange-out at Reser Stadium.
Also, as the Penn State game was going on, the clash of the week in the SEC was occurring as No.3 Georgia was hosting No.8 Alabama. In that game, Alabama dominated the Dawgs in Georgia 41-30 and outscored Georgia 31-0 in the first half.
Ole Miss blocked an extra point with little time left on the clock to upset No.4 Florida.
Most importantly for Penn State was more than likely that No.9 Wisconsin blew a 19-0 lead over Michigan in Ann Arbor, to lose not only to an unranked opponent, but also to get that ever important loss in the Big Ten, and to solidify Penn State as the lone front-runner in the conference.
All four of these teams fell out of the Top Ten, and Penn State also jumped idle Texas Tech (No.10), and BYU (No.11), to jump all the way to No.6 behind Oklahoma, Alabama, LSU, Missouri, and Texas.
Predictions: Next week Penn State travels to West Lafayette to take on a Purdue team that got embarrassed by Notre Dame last week. It should be a relatively easy victory for the Blue and White.
1)Oklahoma(1) travels to Baylor next week, which should be an easy victory. Alabama (2-AP/4-USA Today) will host 4-0 Kentucky.
2)I expect Alabama(2-AP/4-USA Today) to have a little trouble with Kentucky, but not enough for them to win by less than 2 touchdowns.
3)LSU(3-AP/2-USA Today) travels to the Swamp to face now #12 Florida. I think Florida gets their act together after their upset loss, and I'm going to pick them by the slimmest of margins over the Bayou Bengals, but it will be a very close game.
4)Missouri(4-AP/3-USA Today) will go to Lincoln to face a tough 3-1 Nebraska team, who is really coming around under new coach Bo Pellini. I expect Missouri to win by 10, though, despite the stingy Black Shirts and the night game effect. Due to Nebraska's lack of scoring offense, only racking up 150 points on the season thus far, they will probably lose.
I'm also going to say that should Missouri win this, they will all but have the Big XII North locked up, as Kansas will more than likely lose to either Texas Tech or Texas, before they face the Tigers.
Should Kansas beat both of those teams, they face the Longhorns and Tigers back-to-back to close out the regular season, and I believe that Texas will most likely have softened them up enough for Missouri's passing game to take care of business.
5)Texas (5) travels to Boulder to take on Colorado, and I really honestly don't see why it shouldn't be a blowout in Texas's favor. I was high on the Buffs when they took down West Virginia, even though the Mountaineers had already lost at East Carolina.
Now, though, I believe that the Buffs are a bit of a joke due to their complete lack of defense against Florida State's laughable offense. I also believe that Colorado's offense leaves something to be desired, which is far from the case with Texas. Longhorns win big.
I see Penn State possibly jumping LSU and reaching five next week. If LSU wins, I could possibly see Alabama moving up in the USA Today Coaches' Poll, but really the top six should stay essentially the same, as I would find it very hard seeing Texas Tech or BYU jumping Penn State as well.