He got the answer on a windswept field at Memorial Stadium Saturday; though not quite as quickly has he might have hoped.
Penn State overcame a sloppy first half to seize control in the third quarter and then drop the hammer in the fourth while winning 35-17. The Lions improved to 4-1 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten, while Illinois dropped to 1-3 and 0-2.
Afterward, Paterno was generally happy by what unfolded.
I was glad to see it, he said. The kids were challenged. We were embarrassed last week because we didn't do a good job.
This was a good all-around effort. Quarterback Daryll Clark led a resurgent offense that dominated the second half. And the Lion defense held once-potent Illini QB Juice Williams in check until the game was out of reach.
Here is how things played out Saturday:
MAN OF THE HOUR: Clark re-restablished himself as a dual-threat quarterback, throwing for 175 yards and running for 83 yards and two touchdown.
CLOSE THIRD: Linebacker Josh Hull had a game-high 11 tackles, including one for a loss.
TURNING POINT: Late in the first half, Illinois marched from its own 1-yard line to the Penn State 23. On the verge of cutting into or eliminating PSU's 7-3 lead, Williams dropped back to pass but was pressured by Lion end Jack Crawford. Williams got rid of the ball while being hit but it did not make it back to the line of scrimmage. Intentional grounding. Crawford was rewarded a sack and the Illini lost a down and were pushed back to the Penn State 43. Williams' desperation pass on the final play of the half was intercepted by rookie cornerback Stephon Morris.
SOLID STRATEGY: Penn State unleashing Clark as a weapon on the ground. The Illini were not playing him honestly, and he made them pay, especially with a 51-yard gain in the third quarter. We know the staff wants to keep him healthy, but feel this should have been part of the gameplan from the start of the season.
NUMBERS GAME: Behind the best game yet by the offensive line, Penn State averaged 8.4 yards per carry. Also, PSU had possession for 12:04 of the third quarter (to Illinois' 2:56).
BUSINESS AS USUAL: Tight end Andrew Quarless continued his strong senior season with five more catches for 26 yards.
SPECIAL DELIVERY: PSU punter Jeremy Boone averaged 49.5 yards on four boots, with two downed inside the 20. Great way to bounce back from his first ever block the week before.
WHAT'S UP WITH?
This Illinois team having come completely unraveled. This was a nice win for Penn State. But for all of their supposed talent, the Illini are not very good.
Williams. A player who was once considered the best QB in the Big Ten can't make a play in the clutch. He scored his first passing and rushing TDs of the season in this game, but only because head coach Ron Zook kept him in throughout garbage time.
This game being billed as sell-out. There were thousands of empty seats. And many students began heading for the exits after the Illini fell behind 21-3 early in the fourth quarter.
Penn State leaving Clark in until there was less than a minute to go in the game. Rookie backup Kevin Newsome won't be prepared to play if the staff doesn't give him a few more snaps in a blowout
The Orange Out. Penn State fans usually see more orange on the first day of deer season.
HIDDEN HERO: A collective nod to the entire offensive line, which really came together in the second half.
LOST IN THE SHUFFLE: Penn State defensive back Nick Sukay had seven solo tackles, the most in the game.
DID YOU NOTICE?
Morris' 70-yard return of the pick near the end zone. The kid has some moves.
Royster fumbling a punt in the third quarter but quickly recovering. Isn't he supposed to have great hands?
Though there was slight rain throughout the day, Paterno still refused to wear a hat. He went with the towel-around the neck look again Saturday. We're not sure what that actually accomplishes.
Receiver Chaz Powell played but was limited by illness. He did not have a catch or a carry.
UNANSWERED QUESTION: Was Penn State that good in the second half or was Illinois that bad?