Playmaking receivers hope to boost No. 21 PSU's offense before Illinois game Print
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Thursday, 27 September 2007 23:43
NCAAF Headline News

 STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -Deon Butler makes it sound so simple.
He and his fellow receivers plan to give No. 21 Penn State's sputtering offense a spark when the Nittany Lions visit Illinois on Saturday.
``Just give us a nice, easy pass. ... We'll handle it,'' Butler said. ``When the game's on the line, I feel like I want the ball and I want to make a play.''
There were few opportunities for Penn State's playmakers to make a difference in last week's 14-9 loss to Michigan, when the Nittany Lions (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten) struggled behind fumbles, an inconsistent ground game and spotty quarterback play.
Coach Joe Paterno said the offense against Michigan was fine but could have used a few tweaks.
``I have to be able to get across to the kids, 'Hey, we're going to get better,' and we are going to get better,'' Paterno said. ``I'm going to get better. The staff's going to get better. You guys are going to get better. I think that's how you approach it.''
Paterno likes an even split between running and passing plays on offense, though the Nittany Lions' rushing attack has had trouble getting started in games this season. Plus, Austin Scott has four fumbles in the last three games, putting his status as first-string tailback in jeopardy.
When asked, Butler said he was a little surprised that Penn State wasn't calling for more deep passes, ``but even with the play calls we are getting, we have ample opportunities to score and we're just not doing it.''
The receivers are the deepest and most talented part of the offense, with juniors Butler, Jordan Norwood and Derrick Williams forming a dangerous trio to go with 6-foot-5 tight end Andrew Quarless.
Part of the problem for the receivers is that defenses have caught onto them, too. The offensive line has been inconsistent, and often-criticized quarterback Anthony Morelli didn't look sharp last week.
``A lot of defenses will play us a different way because they know the speed our receiving corps has,'' said Williams, who has 14 catches for 87 yards this season. ``There's got to be a way we can make a play and get it into the receivers' hands.''
Morelli didn't speak with reporters this week, though his teammates said their senior captain has shaken off the loss. He'll need to be focused against an Illinois defense that appears improved from the last time Penn State played in Champaign - a 63-10 rout by the Nittany Lions two years ago in Ron Zook's first season as Illinois coach.
But if not, Illinois senior linebacker J Leman remembers the way Zook turned a low-point in the program's history into an opportunity for resurgence.
``Coach Zook told us after that game two years ago that this is the lowest we're ever going to go; this is rock bottom,'' linebacker J Leman said. ``From right now, we're going to start rising, and we really have since then.''
Illinois has won its last three games, including a 27-14 victory at Indiana last weekend, its first Big Ten opening win since 1993. Last season, the Illini (3-1, 1-0) slowly started to show signs of improvement, losing four games by a touchdown or less. They even took a 9-3 lead into halftime at Penn State, only to fall 26-12.
Leman leads the Big Ten with 49 tackles, while starting sophomore cornerbacks Dere Hicks and Vontae Davis hope another year of experience helps them keep up with Butler and Williams, who have different ideas.
``All of us are hungry to make plays. We know what we're capable of,'' Butler said. ``Luckily, we're all guys where pressure doesn't get to us too much.''
 

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