Questions loomed over State College last week as Penn State was getting ready for their game against Illinois. One question that stood out was if Penn State could beat a big-time opponent.
On Saturday night, the Nittany Lions proved that they can. In front of their home crowd in a sea of white, Penn State was victorious against Illinois 38-24.
In the first quarter, PSU started very sloppy. The offense sputtered on their first drive and the defense allowed the Fighting Illini to score a quick touchdown from RB Jason Ford. Illinois came out of the gate with a lot of confidence. You could see that QB Juice Williams and Co. were not afraid of this Nittany Lions team.
On the ensuing Penn State possession, PSU QB, Daryll Clark, led his team up the field and scored on a QB sneak. Both teams traded touchdowns and the first quarter ended in a 14-14 tie.
In the second quarter, Penn State took the lead by a Derrick Williams five-yard touchdown run. In the second half, Juice Williams did his best to bring his team back, but there was too much Derrick Williams.
PSU Senior WR, Derrick Williams, had the best game of any Penn State player in the Joe Paterno era. He had a receiving touchdown, a rushing touchdown, and to put the game out of reach, he returned a kick 94 yards to the endzone.
Williams busted onto the Penn State scene as a freshman in 2005, being a key player in their success that season. In the past two seasons, Williams has not played as well as he did in 2005. On Saturday, fans saw the Derrick Williams of old. Penn State played without their main receiver, Jordan Norwood, and Joe Paterno asked for a big game out of Williams. And he delivered.
Even though this was a huge victory for the Nittany Lions, it wasn't their best game. Yes, they found a way to hold off Juice Williams and the Illinois rushing attack, but they are still in need of improvement. This is the first time in a while that we say the "Lineback U" has defensive problems.
PSU is known for having great defenders, especially linebackers. Penn State had a difficult time stopping the option plays. Illinois ran the option so many times that it seemed as if PSU was playing for the pass. They allowed 189 yards on the ground.
The "Spread HD" was definitely in "High Definition" on Saturday night. I think that many people now know the name of Daryll Clark. Even without his favorite target, he was still able to pass the ball effectively. Clark threw for 181 yards (14/20) and two touchdowns. So far this season he has only one interception. He continues to be patient in the pocket and wait for his receivers to get open down field.
The ground attack for the Nittany Lions is fun to watch. They have two great running backs in Jr. Evan Royster and Fr. Stephon Green. When one has a bad game, the other can step up and have a big game.
Last week vs. Temple, Royster only had 73 yards, but Green came up big with 131 yards. This week Green had 22 yards and Royster busted out 139 yards. This is a great duo of running backs and hopefully they will keep it up for the rest of the season.
The x-factor of the game was, without a doubt, the "white out." Penn State is nicknamed "The Greatest Show in College Football" for a reason. The fans at PSU know how to get loud. They know what it takes to disrupt the opposing team. The "white out" is unbelievable. Nothing compares to it. When you combine Penn State fans and a "white out," it is mass hysteria.
I was at the game on Saturday and the environment was great. When Derrick Williams took the ball 94 yards for the touchdown, the crowd went crazy. You can't beat the support of PSU fans. With fans like that, the Lions will continue to roar.