We’re used to expressing disappointment about Derrick Williams’ performances in our post-game retrospectives. Except for his freshman year, 2005, Williams has been an underachiever in view of his much hyped recruitment dossier. However, on Saturday night, Williams finally lived up to his vaunted potential, performing a triple-threat feat no one else has ever done under head coach Joe Paterno. In the Nittany Lions’ grudge match victory over Illinois in filled-to-the-rafters, whited out Beaver Stadium, Williams exceeded all expectations. He gets the game ball.
Number 12 Penn State (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) eventually beat #22 Illinois (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten), 38-24, in what had started out with a see-saw first quarter. Not unlike the Temple game, it took the Lions a few series to get started. It was not a perfect game, but PSU got lucky with a couple of close calls that nullified turnovers. Ball handling was, as we’ve seen in other outings this year, somewhat sloppy.
Back to Williams, his triple scoring threat feat involved scoring three touchdowns: one as a pass receiver, one on a running play, and one on a 94-yard kickoff return.
The Lions were a pass receiver short, as Jordan Norwood sat this game out with a hamstring injury. So, Williams became a more crucial component of the passing game than usual. On other days, Williams has looked as if he could be knocked over with a feather; on this night, he was a rock.
As we predicted here, Illinois was able to score 24 points against the Penn State defense. Per this Turkey’s recommendations, you could have made big bucks taking Illinois and the points. So, listen to me next time. If you lose money, I don’t want to hear about it.
Illini Sophomore Arrelious Benn is going to be playing on Sundays. He catches anything within 15 yards of him, in traffic. He’s an amazing wide receiver. Benn scored two touchdowns, on receptions of 33 and 54 yards. On the 33-yarder, he was able to do a twinkle-toes sideline grab that broke the goal line plane but fooled the official who was right on the play who called it incomplete. His call was overturned by replay. Later, Benn’s 54-yarder early in the fourth quarter brought Illinois to within a touchdown of Penn State.
Quarterback Isaiah “Juice” Williams was 13 of 24 for 183 yards with Benn’s two touchdowns and one interception, while his Nittany Lion counterpart, Daryll Clark was 14 for 20 with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Once it got in gear, the Penn State running game was impressive. Evan Royster led the charge with 19 carries for 139 yards. Clark added 50 yards on 11 carries. The quarterback draw has been effective with Clark, much as it had been with Michael Robinson three years ago. Clark touched bases with Robinson during the day Saturday, seeking his advice for his prime-time debut. Whatever advice Robinson proudly proffered proved particularly providential, pigskinologically speaking, as it were.
There. I got my alliteration in.
On defense, the Juice-run option and the Benn threat were a handful; however, Bradley’s boys were able to adjust to the former at halftime, allowing only ten points on a field goal and Benn’s 54-yard touchdown. reception. Benn had burned Lydell Sargent one too many times, so A. J. Wallace took over the cover duties on Benn.
That reception tightened up the game early in the fourth quarter. With the score PSU 31, Illinois 24, Clark drove the team effectively from his own 23 yard-line, capping the drive effectively with a 17-yard touchdown toss to tight end Andrew Quarless with 12:48 left in the game, which would prove to be the final touchdown.
Then, Paterno kicked in “full sphincter mode” all too early in the fourth quarter, when the game was not yet decided. A two-touchdown lead with almost 13 minutes left is not insurmountable by any means. Yet Paterno has done this time and time again, turning more conservative than Attila the Hun in trying to protect a lead. This Turkey believes in attacking repeatedly until a win is assured. In this case, the Williams-to-Benn combination had shown itself effective against the Penn State defense during the game to that point and could well have posed a quick strike danger as the game wound down. Fortunately, disaster was averted in this case, as a couple of Illinois drives sputtered.
This was the first test of the year, the first conference game, and Penn State passed. By virtue of this performance and Oregon State manhandling former #1 USC, along with five other teams ranked higher than the Nittany Lions in the AP poll being vanquished this week, PSU moved up from #12 to #6. This is not a comfortable place to be with a tough October on the horizon.
We start October with a trip to West Lafayette to face off with Purdue. While the Boilermakers have never been particularly effective against Penn State, the Lions have not been particularly good playing Big Ten games on the road. The sad reality is that their conference road record is 16-24. That sucks! A road trip to Madison follows, as we dust off BadgerBadgerBadger, with Wisconsin loaded for bear following their narrow loss to unranked Michigan. The Wolverines come to Beaver Stadium for Homecoming on October 18, providing our best chance to beat Michigan since the two-second fiasco in 2005, but a win against Big Blue is never an easy task for the Nittany Lions. October wraps up with a trip to the Horseshoe in Columbus, a hostile venue that has been a serious stumbling block for Penn State for a long, long time.
There are no more cupcakes, except perhaps Indiana, in mid-November.
I’m no longer asking questions about the offense, unless Paterno puts his conservative clamps on it. The Spread HD brings a lot of weapons to the field of combat. The offensive line is a seasoned, mature, cohesive unit. The Lions’ skill positions have as much skill as anyone in the BCS (formerly Division I-A).
As for the defense, they’ll be tested, if not by Purdue, then surely by Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State. I’m not certain that PSU has a back seven that can allow the Lions to run the table in the Big Ten. The play of middle linebacker Josh Hull is deficient. Navorro Bowman appears to be the only worthy linebacker for Linebacker U. Wallace and Sargent have problems covering receivers, as does Rubin. Furthermore, the Penn State defensive line, which had been receiving raves for the first three games, was noticeably impaired in the outings against Temple and Illinois. Pressure on the Juicester seemed nonexistent. This defense will have to improve measurably to be effective against the better Big Ten teams.
Other aspects of the Penn State game that will have to improve if this #6 ranking is not to inspire cries of “OVERRATED” in some forthcoming hostile stadium are the kicking game and ball handling. You don’t win close games allowing your opponent to start drives on their 40 yard-lines and you can’t win if you’re continually coughing up the pigskin. They must get better to wind up the season with any hope of a BCS bowl. As for the SSMNC, do you really think they could beat Oklahoma, Alabama, or even Florida right now? Is a win against Wisconsin assured? Hell, no! Same for Michigan and Ohio State. Furthermore, if the guys look past Purdue, nothing is certain about that game, either. When I start seeing headlines about BCS possibilities, I have to think that people are jumping the gun waaaaaay early with their wishful thinking pipe dreams. Either that or Bob Flounders is looking to put the jinx on Penn State.
Get real, folks! There’s a lot of football to be played. You saw what happened to USC, Georgia, Wisconsin, et. al. this week. Now that PSU is the top ranked team in the Big Ten, with ranked conference opponents Ohio State and Wisconsin, plus an unranked Michigan team that is dying to regain national relevance, awaiting forthwith, these are perilous times for a Number Six, a status exacerbated by ESPN’s Beano Cook, who publicly posited that Penn State would run the table.
I’ve shitcanned our guest reporter feature, as I feel that at this stage of the season, things are getting serious, and we better concentrate on using our space effectively for football commentary and irreverent opinions here. Obama said he wasn’t available for this game, anyhow. We might revive the guest reporter program in November if one of two things occurs: either the season turns to crap or the Lions look so good that the final few games look like walkovers.
Non-sequitur Division. Shades of old times in 2002: Larry Johnson, Jr., who lately had been pissing and moaning about his “work load”, rushed for 198 yards in Kansas City’s win over Denver in the NFL today.
We’ll be back later in the week with a look at Purdue, the only team in the Big Ten named after an alcoholic libation. Breaking news as it develops. Opinions when I feel like issuing them. Until then, boys and girls…
Your posting as usual is a little conservative in the praise department..)
First, no need to give a back handed compliment to perhaps the most important player to ever come to Penn State in Derrick Williams. The kid is “stand up”, he is a performer, he is a leader – in short he is everything you want in a Penn State football player. He (with only a little hyperbole) single handedly turned Penn State football around by committing to a program that had fallen from grace. I think instead of demeaning a clutch performance with the “underachiever” label you could have just said, “Thank you” in your best Jack Nicholson voice and been on your way. (See Fee Good Men).
Second, on the defensive line front — it was clearly pulling back to avoid big gains by Juice Williams. The defensive line will be back in form against Curtis (don’t call me Picaso) Painter. They will tee off on him. The over under on sacks is set at 5 by yours truly.
Third, PSU will not have a tougher defensive test this year (until perhaps the bowl game) than that Illinois offense on that day. They came to play, and we still beat them.
The Nittany Turkey says
You’re absolutely right about Williams. I do indeed owe him a big pat on the back for this career performance. He had a helluve rookie year and a couple of OK years in between then and now. You can blame the OK years on Morelli and dubious play calling if you want, and perhaps that is true, but I’m still entitled to expect steady improvement from year to year.
Where we disagree is that I still believe PSU’s defense is soft up the middle. I realize that Sean Lee going down along with the depletion of the front four is the cause, but it still is a weakness that we must acknowledge. Unlike you, I do not believe that Illinois will prove to be their toughest test this season. With Beanie healthy and Terrelle Pryor at QB, Ohio State will move the ball and score points. They had 106 and 97 yards on the ground against Minnesota, respectively. (Fortunately, this year’s PSU offense can score points as well.) Between now and OSU, there is a lot of tough football, too.
I have to get curmudgeonly again when I talk about the defense. We’ve been spoiled by some great middle linebackers; after all, Penn State is Linebacker U. This year we have Josh Hull, a walk-on who couldn’t hold Pozluszny’s, Connor’s, or Lee’s jock strap. In fact, we have one linebacker who is worthy of wearing the uniform that Ham, Conlan, and Onkotz wore: Navorro Bowman. Too bad he can’t cover the entire field, although he never stops trying.
Thanks for the excellent comments, psurule4. We might not agree on everything, but intelligent and informed comments are very much appreciated.
I wouldn’t read your blog if I did not respect the thoughts contained therein. Although I think you are a harsh critic — I guess it’s good to be grounded.
Our biggest weakness on defense is our middle linebacking — kind of reminds me of the team with Gino Capone in the middle– hard worker, but a step slow, and always got caught up in traffic. It becomes a blatant problem only when you get used to watching Paul P. and Dan Connor. In other words, the middle linebacking core is probably adequate on any other team in the country– but on this one it is a “liability” and something that has the potential to be exploited. Rubin made some great run stopping plays against Juice, but his help in coverage has significant room for improvement.
I still say PSU did a great job containing a very difficult QB to handle. I think it is great that we played Illinois before OSU. Williams is older and wiser than Pryor. Thus, I think we will handle Pryor even better than Williams. Beanie Wells — I am not so sure about — but if OSU can’t pass (and I don’t think Pryor is quite ready to be a prime time passer yet) we will be fine. We contained Antwone Randel El, we contained Juice Williams, we will probably contain Pryor– unless he learns to be a passer (in which case all bets are off).
Our offense needs to hold on to the ball. What more can be said about the extremely balanced offense we are fielding.
If Mr. Clark continues to perform, I think we all have to eat some words regarding JayPa on this one. I know I have a lot of pent up anger re: JayPa, but perhaps I have been too harsh and Mr. Morrelli really was one of the most overrated H.S. QBs ever. I think we would all gladly apologize to JayPa for our evil thoughts (if not our evil words) if this team delivers a BCS bowl bid. Heck, we aren’t even calling dumb time outs in the middle of a drive. (Something got fixed somewhere along the line in that regard and we can’t think we just have to get over our time in the hinter lands of college football from 2000-2004. It scarred us all, but it is time to build that bridge and get over it.
We are a good team. I am hopeful to see us “kill” a team I “know” to be good — like Wisco. Only if we can show we can dominate a team like that do I feel we are National Championship quality. Illinois presented a good opportunity to “kill” a good team, and we merely beat them — so, so far we only know we are better than good, but we don’t know whether we are great. Know what I mean?
The Nittany Turkey says
AND ANOTHER THING…
Just kidding. You and I seem to be largely in agreement on most counts.
Those of us who made fun of the “Spread HD” and anything else associated with JayPa might have to eat some negative words. Perhaps the success of this offensive scheme in itself exonerates him. Clark’s performance certainly suggests that Jay might not be incompetent as a quarterbacks’ coach. Cynics would say that he ruined Morelli, but then why hasn’t he ruined Clark?
I do think that Morelli was a dud from Day One, on the field and off. In Morelli’s sophfomore [deliberate misspelling because I like the way Stephfon Green spells his name, but I digress] year, I attended a talk given by Mike McQueary at which someone asked a question about why Morelli wasn’t red-shirted. McQueary’s answer at this point is irrelevant, but one of the things that came out of it was that Morelli was rather immature and somewhat irresponsible. McQueary wrote this off to “freshman-itis”, but as we know at this point, Morelli’s immaturity was as big an issue as his slow feet, poor field vision, and errant passing. (Oh, and crappy hands, too.) I was never more pissed off at Morelli than I was when he was taunting fans in Michigan stadium with his team losing. Not that I would condone that type of behavior from a so-called senior leader under any circumstances, but if he can’t get serious when his team is losing, what the hell good is he?
Don’t answer that. The Arizona Cardinals already did. Perhaps he can get a fine job running North Park in Pittsburgh, taking advantage of his degree in Parks and Recreation Management.
I think Terrelle Pryor is the complete package. Thus far this season—and I realize that Boeckman started several games—he’s had seven touchdowns while he’s thrown only a single interception. Whether he has prime talent to throw to is arguable, but I’m not a great fan of either Hartline or Robiskie. Pryor has confidence, or what JoePa likes to call “poise.” He’ll only get better as the season progresses. He’s shown that he can step in and handle the pressure. By the time he gets through Wisconsin, Purdue, and Moo U. on the way to our October showdown, his well rounded game will be ready for prime time. Between him and Beanie Wells, I have good reason to be worried. If Penn State’s defense sells out to contain Beanie, like we did with P.J. Hill in last year’s Wisconsin game, Pryor has the skills to beat us. Thus, in my opinion, the PSU defense must improve in several areas by then.
Last year, Wisconsin was #19, with a 5-1 record when the Badgers came to Beaver Stadium. We did, in fact, kill them last year, 38-7. This year, they’ll probably be ranked lower, as they have already lost a game and they probably will lose another to OSU this week. Now, I don’t want to be too cheeky as to completely refute your national championship credibility example, but Penn State royally beat up Wisconsin last year in what was perhaps Morelli’s finest hour, yet still wound up in Texas in December.
There’s a lot of football yet to be played.
I think this year’s team is good enough for Florida on New Year’s Day, and maybe even the Rose Bowl, if PSU can beat both Michigan and Ohio State. Wisconsin found out that the Wolverines are not dead yet. Even in Beaver Stadium, we cannot count on Penn State beating—let alone blowing out—Big Blue. As for OSU in the Horseshoe, a win isn’t likely, but it sure would be sweet!
Rubin and Hull will both have to improve if the PSU defense wants to help this team to a Big Ten championship. As for playing in the so-called National Championship game, there’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip. Until we can see how well Penn State performs against the “meat” of the Big Ten schedule, it is waaaay premature to talk of such lofty goals.
The Nittany Turkey says
We took apart Wisconsin and held PJ to 70 yards last year with Connor and Lee in there. Bowman cannot do that job single-handedly. Hull, Sales, and Gbdayu don’t add very much.
Hull is a nice guy, but in the late Leo Durocher’s words, “Nice guys finish last!”
Well, I think we can agree to disagree about Pryor. I would suggest that MinnieHaHa and Ohio U are not exactly on the A side of college football and USC (which lost to the other OSU) did crush OSU. Maybe I watched Pryor too early in the season, and maybe I was jealous because he was not wearing a blue and white jersey, but I thought he looked very freshmany to me. (By the way, if you will recall Boekman played out of his frickin mind aginst PSU last year — the guy was unbelievable — I just hope Pryor is not able to do the same… but I digress). I am super scared of Pryor in another year– but his passing will have to improve to get me concerned about him in particular. (The other guys I am scared of– i.e., Wells and Robeskie — who beat us like rented Arelius Benn) I am hopeful by the time he gets under center with PSU he still wont be quite ready for prime time.
One other concern for OSU. If they were to lose to Wisco — their “season” would be done. The seniors that stuck around– stuck around to win the National Title. What little hope they have of that would be completely snuffed by a lose against Wisco. Those seniors may go into self preservation mode (i.e., get ready for Sundays) and who knows. Or the “team” could fall apart — we’ve seen that before ourselves.
As you say, there is a lot of football to be played and so far no one has knocked my blue colored lenses from my face.
Michigan just makes me sick to my stomach — please tell me we can’t lose that game… We have to beat RichRod don’t we? I would almost trade losing the rest of our games if we could embarrass Michigan this year.
Here’s the deal Turkey — all I want you to say to me is: If PSU beats Wisco, OSU, and Michigan in succession — you will acknowledge in your post that the team has National Title hopes, and in that same post you do not criticize one thing PSU did. Not one. I know I am asking a lot from a crumudgeon, but …..
If they lose one or more of those games I will acknowledge deep down in my heart where I don’t like to go, that I knew there were deficiencies which we could not overcome…..but I have Hope, and I do believe in Hope & Change– unlike a self professed crumudgeon like yourself.
By the way, the pictures of the stadium are really cool. Having been born 10 years after the pictures were taken, I have a hard time believing how small PSU was at the time. I did have the “luxury” of walking by the chicken coops on my way to class though — I kind of wish all the kids could experience a little of that– it keeps you grounded.
The Nittany Turkey says
Hell, no! I’ll make no deals about what I write or what I don’t. But good try, anyway.
If I’m wrong about something, I’ll say I’m wrong. Debating about something in advance of an event, I can be neither right nor wrong. That’s all a matter of opinion.
As I have said before in this forum, opinions are like assholes: we all have to have one.
Will Penn State ever play a perfect game? No. There is no such thing. Is there such a thing as a perfect diamond? Nope. Are any of us perfect? No fucking way! It is our flaws that give us character; without them, we’d be uninteresting androids. Thus, in addition to the high points, I shall continue to write about the flaws exhibited by this team from week to week while secretly pining for their success.
Williams had a good day and I didn’t bubble over as effusively as you would have liked, but I’m not writing a feel-good fan letter here. I’m writing an opinionated blog, for my own amusement and to make my small following either love or hate me. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in “hope and change,” a rather nebulous Obamaesque campaign slogan favored by the pie-eyed optimists among us who feel that those are meaningful concepts, the mere mention of which will provide us with a great panacea for all our embedded national ills. Instead, it means that as a vehicle for expressing my copious opinions, it is my damn blog and, like it or not, I’ll write about whatever the hell is on my mind.