STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Derrick Williams came to Penn State in 2005 as one of the most hyped recruits Joe Paterno had ever lured to Happy Valley.
For the past three years, Williams hasn't quite lived up to his advance billing.
On Saturday night against No. 22 Illinois, the speedy senior put on a show like no Nittany Lion has ever done during Paterno's 43-year tenure.
Williams caught a touchdown pass, ran for a TD and returned a kick 94 yards for another score as the 12th-ranked Nittany Lions (5-0, 1-0) stayed unbeaten with a 38-24 win. It was the first time that trifecta had been accomplished by a Penn State player under Paterno.
"This is the first time he's really had a chance to break out," Paterno said. "Derrick's been in tough games and made big plays ... He's a heck of an athlete."
Arrelious Benn caught touchdown passes of 54 and 33 yards from Juice Williams, who finished 13-of-24 passing for 183 yards. He also threw an interception, one of several mistakes that held back the Illini (2-2, 0-1).
But it was Derrick Williams who was the biggest star in tough test for the Nittany Lions, finishing with 241 all-purpose yards.
The humble receiver has had a solid career at Penn State, though he hasn't had the breaktrough game that many fans expected following his tantalizing freshman year in 2005. That's when he and fellow receivers Jordan Norwood and Deon Butler, who have been nicknamed the "Smurfs," added a dose of big-play ability to what had been a vanilla Penn State offense and helped the the Nittany Lions win the Big Ten.
Williams dazzled on Saturday night.
Matt Eller hit a 42-yard field goal to pull Illinois within 24-17 before Williams pulled off a crowd-pleaser, taking the ensuing kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown to put the Nittany Lions ahead by 14.
Williams deflected his attention to his teammates.
"Oh yeah, it was defintiely a big play, but when I was running, did you see how easy that was?," Williams said. "It was the guys up in front of me that did their jobs, all I had to do was run."
Barely touched on the return, Williams cut back at the 20 and outran Illinois' last defender, Nate Bussey into the end zone as a light drizzle fell on the field. Arm extended, he pointed a finger in front of him as he crossed the goal line, whipping the 109,000 fans packed into Beaver Stadium into a frenzy.
"The little things are frustrating," exasperated Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "The kickoff coverage -- that I'm just pulling my hair out on that one. I don't understand that."
Save for a few brave Illinois fans adorned in bright orange, Beaver Stadium was packed with fans dressed almost entirely in white.
The "White House" is what Penn State calls it, and afterward the crowd hooted and hollered as if Paterno had just won a presidential election. Actually, it was just Paterno's 377th career win, allowing him to remain one ahead of Florida State's Bobby Bowden, whose Seminoles defeted Colorado earlier Saturday.
Penn State had rolled to four nonconference victories by easy margins, lighting up the scoreboard like a pinball machine. This time, they faced an offense that could keep pace -- though Illinois was held back by a bunch of mistakes.
Eller missed a 33-yard field goal after Illinois ran the ball down the field against what had been a stout Penn State rush defense. Juice Williams connected with a wide-open Benn for the 54-yard touchdown catch to draw Illinois within 31-24 with 12:48 left in the game.
Illinois dropped to 0-6 at Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions opened the season with five straight victories for the first time since 2005 -- there's that year again.
Illinois' woes started in the first half. One second-quarter drive was snuffed out by two holding penalties, while another drive ended after a poor pass by Juice Williams was intercepted by diving safety Anthony Scirrotto.
Penn State took the lead in between the two Illinois hiccups, with Clark and Derrick Williams coolly leading the way.
Clark opened the drive with a 24-yard strike down the right sideline to Deon Butler to the Illinois 33; Williams finished it off with a 5-yard score off an end around to give Penn State a 21-14 advantage in the second quarter.
On a weekend full of upsets, including losses by Top 10 teams Southern California, Georgia, Florida and Wisconsin, Penn State is poised to make a big jump in the polls -- and possibly enter the national title picture.
"We're not focused on that," Williams said with a slight grin before correcting himself. "We are focused on that. We think every day the national championship ... if we're not thinking that right now, we shouldn't be playing this game at all."