STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- Larry Johnson has the two best rushing
performances in Penn State history. He's still not satisfied.
Johnson ran for 279 yards to break his own school record and
scored on an 84-yard run as Penn State (No. 21 ESPN/USA Today, No. 20 AP) beat Illinois 18-7 Saturday, making the Nittany Lions bowl eligible for the first time
in three years.
Johnson had a second 84-yard touchdown run called back because
of a holding penalty early in the fourth quarter. With a 10-yard
run in the third quarter, he broke the school record of 257 yards
he set two weeks ago against Northwestern. But Johnson fumbled the
ball to Illinois' Derrick Strong on the play.
"When they talk about when I broke my record, they're not going
to talk about the long run that was called back or the runs before
that," Johnson said. "They're going to talk about the fumble that
I had to break the record, and that sticks in my mind more than
The Nittany Lions (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) were coming off consecutive
losing seasons for the first time in coach Joe Paterno's career.
But Paterno, whose 333 career wins are the most in Division I-A
history -- four ahead of Florida State's Bobby Bowden -- played down
the bowl issue, saying he was more concerned with next week's game
"I'm sure when they start talking about things they'll be
anxious to go somewhere -- and I'll be anxious to go with them,"
Paterno said. "But really I haven't thought about it. We've got
three games coming up."
The Fighting Illini (3-6, 2-3) struggled on offense, despite
entering the game leading the conference in average yards at 463.9
Johnson's scoring run came late in the first quarter, when he
waited for a hole, then shrugged off three leg tackles before
sprinting down the left sideline to the end zone.
"Larry is a very good back," Illinois tackle Brett Kautter
said. "You're not going to arm tackle him. You really have to hit
him, and we didn't do that."
It was the longest run of Johnson's career and put him over the
1,000 mark for the season, making him just the ninth Penn State
player to reach the mark, and the first since Curtis Enis ran for
1,363 yards in 1997.
"We knew coming in that would be one of the keys to the game,
to slow down their running game, and obviously we couldn't do
that," Illinois coach Ron Turner said. "You can't give a guy 300
rushing yards and win the football game."
Jon Beutjer replaced Dustin Ward at quarterback late in the
third quarter and led the Fighting Illini back into the game in the
fourth quarter. Kenny Boyle caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from
Beutjer to make it 18-7 with 5:22 left, then the Illinois defense
stopped Sean McHugh on third-and-1, forcing Penn State to punt.
But Beutjer's pass to Aaron Moorehead was tipped by Jimmy
Kennedy and intercepted in the end zone by Anwar Phillips, allowing
Penn State to run out the clock.
Before Boyle's touchdown, Penn State's defense went 11 quarters
without allowing a touchdown, with the last coming in overtime at
Michigan on Oct. 12.
Zack Mills threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Mike Lukac to give
Penn State an 18-0 halftime lead.
Wide receiver Gerald Smith ran 12 yards on a reverse, and
fullback Paul Jefferson went 10 yards on a shovel pass to set up
Robbie Gould's 34-yard field goal, giving Penn State a 3-0 lead
with 9:47 left in the first quarter.