|Linebacker U. gets stiff test in handling Juice|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 25 September 2008 22:44|
No. 12 Penn State has steamrolled to a 4-0 start over a quartet of overwhelmed foes, nonconference mismatches that have allowed the fresh faces at linebacker to ease into their new roles.
The grace period ends Saturday night, when dual-threat quarterback Juice Williams and No. 22 Illinois come to Happy Valley in the Big Ten opener for both teams.
Williams leads the Big Ten in total offense with 313.7 yards per game. No wonder Penn State coach Joe Paterno is fretting about trying to stop him.
``There's no best way. It isn't as if you can gang up on one aspect of the game,'' Penn State's Hall of Fame head coach said. ``They're going to move the football. We're not going to contain them.''
That gloom-and-doom scenario may not be what Penn State's linebacking corps wants to hear. It's a unit that's relatively young, but deep in talent; athletic, but not very seasoned.
Lots of potential, but, for now, no stars.
uszny and Dan Connor manned the middle. Sean Lee would have received top billing this year if not for sustaining a season-ending right knee injury in spring practice.
So it will be up to lesser-known names like senior Tyrell Sales and new starters Josh Hull and Navorro Bowman to help squeeze down on Juice.
``You just have to always be on your toes, be ready for anything,'' said Bowman, who earned Big Ten defensive honors for his three-sack, one interception performance against Temple last week. ``He's an extra threat on the field. We'll be ready for that this week.''
Williams, for his part, isn't buying the argument that Penn State's linebacking corps may not be as good as last year's starting trio of Connor, Lee and Sales.
Statistically, the Nittany Lions have been a defensive force so far, holding opponents to 52 rushing yards and 10 points a game. It's more than enough cushion for a Penn State offense lighting up the scoreboard like a pinball machine.
Bowman, who entered the starting lineup last week against Temple, has shown the athleticism to be a possible force down the road. Sales is the experienced on-field leader with Lee resigned to an unofficial coaching role on the sideline. Bani Gbadyu and Chris Colasanti supply quality depth.
``I can't really see the difference, even in the absence of Sean Lee,'' Williams said. ``They're not called Linebacker U. for no reason.''
s had a bye last week to contemplate a middling 24-20 win Sept. 13 over Louisiana-Lafayette. Williams was an ordinary 13-of-25 for 147 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He ran 11 times for just 35 yards.
Yet Williams and Illinois' no-huddle attack still figure to pose the biggest threat so far for the Penn State defense. The Illini score more than 36 points a game.
Penn State did get a potential boost this week when defensive linemen Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma returned to practice, nearly a week after being charged with one count each misdemeanor possession of a small amount of marijuana stemming from a Sept. 2 police call to their apartment for loud noise.
Evans, in particular would be helpful in pressuring the quarterback; he had a team-high 12.5 sacks in 2007. Paterno, though, has said he isn't sure whether either Evans or Koroma would play Saturday.
Illinois coach Ron Zook seems more convinced.
``They're going to be back. I'm sure they're going to be in there,'' Zook said. ``It just adds to their repertoire, their arsenal.''
A right foot injury that will likely keep starting right tackle Ryan Palmer out of the game might also hurt the Illini. A true freshman, Jeff Allen, must step in and handle Aaron Maybin, the Big Ten leader in sacks (six), and possibly Evans.
y against Daryll Clark, Penn State's own mobile signal-caller. It will be incumbent on the linebackers to keep a wary eye when Williams sprints out of the pocket.
``When you have a guy like that ... you can't sit back,'' Sales said.