Saturday night, in front of the eighth largest crowd in Beaver Stadium history and with fellow wide receiver Jordan Norwood out with a hamstring injury, Williams stepped to the forefront and looked like the Williams of old.
He's getting better every week, senior linebacker Tyrell Sales said. He's just gets more comfortable, he's getting his touches.
Williams' big night started late in the first quarter when he lined up in the backfield and ran a wheel route. He was wide open when quarterback Daryll Clark found him for a 21-yard pass to tie the game at 14-14. That was the last time Penn State did not have the lead.
It continued in the second quarter, in a goal-line situation. Williams took a handoff from Clark and rushed five yards into the end zone.
That was only the appetizer.
After Illinois' Matt Eller converted a 43-yard field goal in the third quarter, Penn State's lead was cut to just seven points, 24-17. Momentum was starting to swing toward the Illini — for 13 seconds.
Williams took Eller's kickoff of the wet Beaver Stadium turf, cut to his right. All of the sudden he had nothing but green space in front of him, coasting to a 94-yard touchdown that all but knocked Illinois out of the game.
I don't remember me making that [play] as a freshman, Williams said when asked if he felt like his old self. It was definitely a big play. But when I was running, did you guys see how easy it was? It was the guys up in front of me that did the job. All I had to do is run.
He finished with 241 all-purpose yards.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno challenged Williams earlier in the week, saying that it was Williams' time to have a breakout game. To say that he fulfilled Paterno's wishes would be an understatement.
I try to take it in week in and week out, Williams said. Every game he comes to me and says to me 'I want this to be your weekend.'
But today wasn't about me. It was the guys down in front of me, the offensive line. Daryll did a great job, too.
Late in the fourth quarter, with the Illini facing a fourth down, Williams turned away from the field and lifted his arms up and down repeatedly to encourage the White House crowd to be loud one more time. The crowd roared and the defense held.
Penn State was able to control an Illinois offense that scored 109 points in its first three games. Illinois jumped out to a 14-7 lead but would only add 10 points for the rest of the game.
Illini quarterback Juice Williams was relatively contained. He did finish 13 for 24 for 183 yards and two touchdowns and also added 64 yards on the ground. But in the later part of the game, Illinois avoided passing.
While Penn State allowed 372 yards of total offense, it was a bend-but-don't-break defense. The Nittany Lions stopped the Illini on several key third downs. Penn State was aided by the return of defensive linemen Abe Koroma and Maurice Evans, back after three-game suspensions after a small amount of marijuana was found in their on-campus apartment.
Of course, the PSU defense was not exactly facing a high-powered offense for the first time. It encounters Derrick Williams in practice all the time. And Clark helped it prepare for the other dangerous Williams on the field — Juice.
It helps a lot, said redshirt sophomore linebacker Navorro Bowman, who led PSU with 10 tackles. Chasing Daryll around week in and week out, you get prepared for elusive quarterbacks.