As I looked at Penn State box scores through the first four games of the season, one word entered my mind: impressive.
I wasn’t sure what was more impressive: the fact that 16 different players had scored a touchdown or more, the fact that the offense averaged 52 points a game through four games, or the fact that the defense had allowed an average of just 10 points a game.
Then I watched some highlights online. I saw a Nittany Lions team that is extremely deep at every position play fast and physical behind an enormous offensive line that averages 300 pounds a man.
After witnessing Oregon State stun USC—who, in case you forgot, put an old-fashioned whoopin’ on “The” Ohio State University (I’m from Ann Arbor, I couldn’t resist that barb)—a new word entered my mind: scary.
I finally got to watch an entire game last Saturday, and my opinion has not changed one bit. This team is scary good on offense. The Nittany Lions boast a three receiver set that is arguably the best in the country, featuring seniors Derrick Williams, Jordan Norwood, and Deon Butler. Their smallest tight end is starter Mickey Shuler at 6’4”, 250 pounds.
Quarterback Daryll Clark is the leader of the team, having thrown nine touchdowns to just one interception and rushing for three more scores. His backup Pat Devlin is none too shabby either, with a 132.7 passer rating in the four games he has played.
But the deepest part of the Nittany Lions offense has to be their running backs. There are four backs that have 20 or more carries thus far this season, and that group does not include Chaz Powell, who scored a 55-yard touchdown in the season opener against Coastal Carolina, or Clark (22 carries).
The running attack has averaged an astronomical 267.6 rush yards a game and features Evan Royster (103 yds/game, seven TDs) and Stephfon Green (63 yds/game, four TDs). Royster and Green are averaging 7.8 and 6.8 yards per carry respectively and are home run hitters that finish runs with powerful hits.
However, in all honesty, I was withholding judgment of this Penn State team until they played an offense or defense as good as theirs. Yes, I am aware that they throttled Oregon State, who spanked USC in the first half of their game, who themselves spanked “The” Ohio State.
But let's be real, people: Playing at home on Thursday night is quite a bit different from traveling across the country and playing in Happy Valley. Illinois offered a much more prolific offense, led by All-American candidate Juice Williams, and a very athletic defense led by Vontae Davis.
I got my answer. The Nittany Lions answered every Illini score with one of their own, and Derrick Williams proved once again a dangerous weapon on offense and special teams—he is Penn State’s version of Missouri’s Jeremy Maclin.
Still, there is more to be answered about Penn State, namely how they will handle a brutal road stretch that includes visits to Wisconsin and Ohio State.
But with all the talk about their offense, keep this in mind—prior to Saturday's game, the Nittany Lions defense gave up an average of 10 points a game WITHOUT their star defensive end Maurice Evans, who has had off the field problems. Evans led the Lions in sacks last year with 12.5 and was named first team All-Big Ten.
With an offense that looks like it can outscore any team in the conference and a hard-hitting, senior-laden defense, the Nittany Lions are now the clear front runners to win the Big Ten.
As a Michigan fan, THAT is scary.