|No. 12 Penn St, No. 22 Illinois out for respect|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 26 September 2008 09:57|
No. 12 Penn State handled its nonconference schedule with its high-octane offense, though questions still lurk about whether the undefeated Nittany Lions are the real deal.
It sounds a lot like the whispers surrounding No. 22 Illinois and whether it's just a one-year wonder following the dramatic 2007 run to the Rose Bowl.
Answers will come Saturday night, when the Nittany Lions (4-0) host the Illini (2-1) in the Big Ten opener for both teams.
``We're champing at the bit a little bit,'' Penn State's first-year starting quarterback Daryll Clark said. ``Hopefully we can make a statement come Saturday and say, 'OK, this team is for real here.'''
Penn State leads the conference in scoring (52.8 points per game), and the mobile Clark has looked poised in running the team's so-called ``Spread HD'' offense.
olding teams to 10 points a game and getting constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks, despite injuries and suspensions along the defensive line.
``A bunch of big, strong athletic guys ... Some of the backups we think are just as good as their starters,'' Illinois coach Ron Zook said. ``They are going to make you make mistakes.''
The Nittany Lions may have gained more respect for their early success long before the 8 p.m. kickoff Saturday, when Oregon State upset top-ranked Southern California, 27-21 on Thursday. Oregon State was routed by the Nittany Lions, 45-14, three weeks ago.
Suddenly, Penn State's nonconference schedule doesn't look so bad - even though the other three victories came against Syracuse, Temple and FCS school Coastal Carolina.
Receiver Deon Butler understands why some observers might be skeptical.
``I can understand the outsider's view,'' Butler said earlier this week. ``I think our players are a little bit more confident in ourselves. ... We go to practice every day, and we see it day in and day out.''
Like Penn State, there are questions about Illinois' recent success.
Illinois hasn't been overly impressive so far, losing its season opener to Missouri in a shootout. They scored an easy win over Eastern Illinois, but struggled in a three-point victory over Louisiana-Lafayette two weeks ago.
etting a bye last week. The Illini also have the added confidence from last year's 27-20 win over Penn State in Champaign.
``This is a big-stage game. The Missouri game was a big-stage game. We've been in that atmosphere already this year,'' Zook said. ``Although we haven't played the way we want to play, that part is not going to be a concern, I don't believe.''
Illinois will have to contain Penn State's offensive stars, including Clark, Butler, tailback Evan Royster and wideouts Jordan Norwood and Derrick Williams.
For Illinois, Arrelious Benn is a threat at receiver and on kick returns - he returned a kick 90 yards against the Nittany Lions last season. Quarterback Juice Williams leads the Big Ten in total offense (313.7 yards per game).
Penn State's defense should get a boost with the expected return of defensive linemen Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma from a three-game suspension for an off-field issue.