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…