The Penn State Nittany Lions have been followed by the "wait and see" all season long.
After rolling over Oregon State 45-14, in what was supposed to be their biggest non-conference matchup, people dismissed Oregon State for dead, and remained adamant about Penn State not having played anyone.
All it took was three days to change a month's worth of attitude towards Penn State Football.
On Thursday night, Oregon State welcomed the USC Trojans, the No. 1 team in the country, into Corvallis, greeting them with an "orange out." Well, they oranged them out alright...all the way to an impressive 27-21 victory, which wasn't as close as the score indicated.
So, Penn State now had the credible non-conference win they needed under their belt. They headed into Saturday's 8 primetime matchup with their "White Out (which, by the way, is the original color out, everyone else copied us), and Illinois was waiting in the wings.
All the Nittany Lions needed to do was beat the No. 22 Illini under the bright lights of national TV and Beaver Stadium, and prove to the country what they were made of.
After receiving to start the game, the Nittany Lions stalled early and had to punt. The Illini, behind Juice Williams, masterfully exposed the soft underbelly of the PSU defense, and scored early to take a 7-0 lead.
PSU would have none of it, marching right back down as Royster punched it in from 11 yards out to tie the game. The Illini and Lions would trade another pair of scores before the end of the quarter, as catches by Benn and Williams would tie the game. End of the first quarter, the score was tied at 14.
To PSU's credit, they clamped down on defense after that shaky first quarter, giving the PSU Spread HD attack a chance to take the game into their hands. Daryll Clark and Co. would surely take it as they marched down the field.
Derrick Williams ran it wide from five yards for his second TD of the night, and the Nittany Lions took a lead they would not relinquish. At halftime, the score was PSU 21, ILL 14.
To start the third quarter, the Nittany Lions were able to add to their lead with a Kevin Kelly FG, and their defense surprisingly was able to hold the Illini again to only a FG.
A problem lies here, though. The Illini missed a 38-yard FG, giving PSU the ball with good field position. They handed it off to Stephon Green, who fumbled the ball away.
The defense had to hold up again, and this time the Illini made the FG. The score after three quarters of play: PSU 24, Illini 17.
That score could not have changed quickly enough, as Derrick Williams took the kickoff 94 yards to the house! Williams pushed the Nittany Lions up by 14.
He also gave himself a record that no other Nittany Lion in the JoePa era ever accomplished: a TD trifecta of at least one rushing, receiving, and return TD, with 241 all-purpose yards to boot.
It was one of the greatest single-player performances in PSU history, and it came at a perfect time for the Nittany Lions, who were missing Jordan Norwood due to a hamstring injury.
Clark connected with Andrew Quarless for his second TD of the game, and a blown coverage assignment that allowed the Illini to score another TD proved to be meaningless.
Behind the 109,626 White Out fans, and the performances of Daryll Clark (14-of-20, 181 yards, two TD, 11 rushes for 62 yards, TD), Evan Royster (19 carries for 139 yards, TD), Derrick Williams, and a defense that looked shaky early but held the Illini to 10 points over three quarters, the Penn State Nittany Lions handily defeated the Fighting Illini by a final score of 38-24.
It was the credible win PSU needed, and combined with a crazy Saturday, it boosted them up to No. 6 in the rankings.
They need to win next week at Purdue before beginning the toughest stretch in PSU history since joining the Big Ten. But that's another story for another day.
WE ARE...PENN STATE!
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