The offense had its first "real test" this week and all signs point to awesome.
I'm thinking about just copy/pasting a standard response for OL each week. Consistent play as usual. Clark had plenty of time to pass and was able to check his down his options most of the night. The running game was given the holes they needed, gaining 241 yards and averaging 5.5 ypc. One thing that should be mentioned (since it hasn't yet) is that , to date, there have been no issues with the snap, even in some less than pristine conditions.
One small concern was the tough time Penn State had running the ball up the middle early in the game. It did look like Illinois was selling out in order to prevent this, and the problem seemed to alleviate itself after several running plays to the outside, however it is worth a mention. They seemed to do every necessary to get the ball outside and also did a great job in developing the screens.
The only other minor negative was the one sack they gave up. Maybe these are high standards but with a mobile QB and serious threats all over the field, I expect this line to be able to keep Clark out of sack situations. That criticism is offset, though, by Shipley's crazy mom reaction to the horse tackle on Clark, it's good to see him so upset about his quarterback being wronged. Cadogen also stood out, making big blocks and allowing the runners to turn the corner.
Final Grade: B+
Clark was quoted last week about the importance of getting off to a good start:
"You have to come out from the get go against a team like Illinois or any Big Ten team....These teams that we're playing are high caliber in all aspects of the game so it's important that we come out and get a jump."
As we talked about this last week: Clark had this one circled. What's really encouraging wasn't his play, which was solid to the tune of 181 yards in the air, two passing TDs , a 70% completion percentage, 50 yards on the ground and a rushing TD....no, it wasn't really that as much as it was the confidence and determination that he showed while doing it. It wasn't the way he came back in after an injury, it was the way he hobbled it off, walked up to the head coach and said something like "Put Me Back In The Game" I wouldn't have capitalized each word except his facial expression at the time leads me to believe I should. The kid's a gamer and it is the kind of leadership you dream about when you are trying to make a run at a championship with tough road tests ahead.
Final Grade: A
Wide Receivers / Tight Ends
This section really belongs to Derrick Williams. I said during a previous wrap up that the coaches may have just figured out a way to get #2 the ball without letting the defense know 3 seconds before the snap exactly what was going on. This game not only confirms my previous optimistic statement but also assured us all that Williams is up to the challenging of being the game changer we hoped he would become.
The other pleasant surprise was seeing Quarless involved in the offense. Red zone TD conversion was a weak spot last year and a lot of that is a result of not having a viable option at TE. This offense will become deadly if this keeps up; no one in the league is going to be able to stop a first and goal when there are so many different ways this team can score. Butler had a quiet 43 yards on two catches but that was a result of so many other people getting involved; I would hardly consider it anything but a solid performance. The team received excellent blocking from both the TE's and the WR's and that is paramount when so many rushing plays are designed to go outside the tackle box.
Final Grade: A
The ground game got off to a slow start as Illinois seemed to be focusing on stopping the rushing game in between the tackles. After a stalled first drive the play-callers make some adjustments and Royster was able to get outside for positive yardage. He kept up his ridiculous ypc up, ending the night with a 7.3 average.
Green didn't look quite as good. This was a much more physical defense than Penn State has previously faced and I think the one thing Green needs to work on is his "head-down" running. He seems to rush into traffic instead of waiting for things to open up. He has the talent, it just seems like he needs to develop his vision.
Final Grade: B+
The success of the offense against a ranked opponent is only further validation of what we all suspected: that the 2008 Penn State offense is one of the best we've ever seen. The sheer number of ways this team can score is incredible and makes it by far the most balanced squad in the Big Ten. The red zone offense was creative and effective and I was encouraged by the coaching adjustment made to the running game after Illinois decided to take away the middle. I'll nitpick for a second on the 4th and 2 call, Green up the middle is maybe the 5th best option. I also was not thrilled about the conservative end game when a more aggressive one was probably the better strategy.
Final Grade: A-