Much like The Nittany Line, my score prediction (34-24 PSU) ended up being frighteningly close to the actual one (38-24). Great Nostradamuses think alike, I guess.
Even though Illinois’ defense is nothing spectacular, it was still the best that we had faced so far this year and our offense passed the test with flying colors. It seemed everytime the Illini had us on the ropes (i.e. when they led twice in the first quarter) or was threatening to cut into our lead during the second half, Daryll Clark and company stepped up to the challenge and unleashed a Spread HD-fury that ensured there would be no repeat of last year’s debacle at Illinois.
Speaking of Clark, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that he is the real deal. His numbers may not be swoon-worthy (14-of-20 passing, 181 yards, 2 TDs) but his decision-making is far and away better than what we had been accustomed to the past couple of years, not to mention the fact he’s not afraid to take off running, and come back in to finish a drive he started despite taking a tough hit to the knee.
Of course, it’s not only Clark that makes the Spread HD offense tick. Despite the fact only half of “Stephfvan Roygreen” showed up to play (Stephfon Green was held to 22 yards on 6 carries plus a fumble), Evan Royster racked up 139 yards on the ground and Derrick Williams stepped up in a big way and helped us all remember what made him the #1 recruit in the country in 2005, racking up 75 yards receiving (including a TD), scoring a TD on a reverse, and even taking a kickoff return back 94 yards for a score (more on that, later).
Shout-out also go to Andrew Quarless who caught a critical TD pass in the 4th quarter to put PSU back up by two TDs, right after Illinois had cut our lead down to 31-24 when a blown coverage play led to a wide open Arrelious Benn catching a 54-yard TD pass.
If it wasn’t obvious before that this defensive unit is weaker than year’s past, then it was blatantly clear this past Saturday when Juice Williams launched a couple TD passes to his favorite target, Arrelious Benn and Daniel Dufrene had another solid game with 96 yards on 14 carries (but still looking for his first TD). The lack of pressure our D-line was getting on Juice was rather alarming and we should be fortunate that Juice himself isn’t the best passer in the Big Ten, nor does Illinois have a receiving threat as capable as Benn because we could’ve paid dearly early on.
However, props should be given when they’re due as the D-line got its act together and started to pressure Juice more often as the game went on, that included Mo Evans’ capping off his “coming back party” with a sack right before the end of the first half.
Linebackers are still a mixed bag: On the one hand, Navorro Bowman is a fucking beast with a LaVar Arrington-esque killer instinct to go along with his speed and strength and Bani Gbadyu’s athleticism is something awe-inspiring as well. However, the middle linebacking position is still a weak spot as Josh Hull simply doesn’t have the athleticism to make plays on a consistent basis. I fear this will come back to bite us in the ass at some point this season.
The secondary was also a mixed bag as Benn simply torched our defense a couple times for TDs but otherwise did not allow anyone else on the Illini to emerge as a playmaker. Mark Rubin, while good in run support just seems lost out there in pass coverage and I really find him the weakest link in our secondary right now.
“Special” is an understatement..at least when it came to returning kicks. D-Will racked up his second TD return of the year on a kickoff and it couldn’t have come at a more critical juncture in the game with PSU having just given up a field goal following a costly fumble in their own territory to have the lead cut to 24-17 with an entire fourth quarter left to play.
D-Will’s return was a complete game-changer as it put PSU back up by two TDs and forced Juice to start airing it out as opposed to making plays with his feet. Despite a TD pass to Benn to answer the call, the Illini were never able to get any closer and you can thank D-Will for that.
Our kickoffs need some work because for the second week in a row, Kevin Kelly booted a kickoff out of bounds which gave the Illini excellent field position from which to work with and it led to an easy TD drive. We’re going to have to put an end to such mistakes if we’re going to beat teams like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State.
OTHER MISCELLANEOUS MATTERS:
- I was fortunate enough to be at the game and I must say the “White House” was just plain awe-inspiring, much like last year against Notre Dame. Not to mention the fact that the entire crowd, not just the student section was screaming and making noise the whole game, the way a night game at the Beav should be.
- I was disappointed however, in the lack of Illinois fans that made the trip to Happy Valley. Either we did a good job of making sure few scalped tickets got into their hands or Illini fans just don’t travel very well for football.
- While I’ve been critical at times of the amount of piped-in music that gets played in Beaver Stadium (and thus, creating more of an NFL atmosphere as opposed to a college one), I have to give props to Guido D’Elia for knowing how to improvise the music selection based on the gameday atmosphere. The playing of CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” was a brilliant move on his part and it was much more pleasant to have the crowd singing to that than the hideously overplayed “Livin’ On A Prayer” or “Sweet Caroline.”
- After a quiet (in comparison to 2007) first four weeks, this past week featured a strong dose of the parity that shook the college football world to its core a year ago: #1 USC was caught overlooking Oregon State (again), #3 Georgia got flat out butt-raped by an Alabama team that looks like arguably the best team in America right now, #4 Florida couldn’t handle a simple extra point against Ole Miss and called a painfully predictable Tim Tebow run on 4th and 1 that got stuffed like one of your grandpa’s trophies, and #9 Wisconsin somehow managed to blow a 19-0 lead at Michigan. I dunno about you, but I’m loving every moment of it..let’s just hope PSU doesn’t fall victim to this parity-site.
- There’s going to be some very intriguing coaching vacancies for 2009: Phil Fulmer’s days at Tennessee are looking more numbered each day, and Virginia’s Al Groh, Syracuse’s Greg Robinson, and Washington’s Ty Willingham should start calling their moving agents because their firings are imminent.