Penn State 44, Minnesota 14
-- Derrick Williams darted through a Beaver Stadium tunnel early Saturday evening, passing fans wearing his No. 2 jersey before finding his way into the arms of his family.
This was the scene the Upper Marlboro native envisioned when he signed to play for Penn State's Joe Paterno, a coach who has rarely played freshmen in such critical roles during his four-decade career. Two first-half rushing touchdowns by Williams -- one for 13 yards, the other for five yards -- helped lead Penn State to a resounding 44-14 victory over No. 18 Minnesota before 106,604 fans.
A 19-year-old has helped restore relevance to the program coached by the 78-year-old Paterno, who some critics said should have retired after four losing seasons in the past five years. Now the Nittany Lions are 5-0 for the first time since 1999 and can expect to be ranked when they host Ohio State next weekend in a critical Big Ten matchup.
"Everyone counted him out and said he was too old," Williams's father, Dwight, said of Paterno. "Look at us now. Can't take 5-0 away."
Just as impressive as Penn State's offense, which amassed 539 total yards, was how the Nittany Lions shut down Laurence Maroney, Minnesota's Heisman hopeful who entered the game having rushed for at least 100 yards in six consecutive games. On Saturday, the junior was limited to only 48 yards, including 14 in the first half.
Penn State's defense had returned nine players from a unit that stood out last year as the nation's only defense to hold every opponent to no more than 21 points. Tom Bradley, Penn State's defensive coordinator, challenged his players before Saturday's game, telling them: "Maybe that is the best running game in the history of football. But not today. Today, we're the best defense in the country."
That aggressiveness was also apparent on offense. In the first half, Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson raced down the sideline only to collide head-on with Minnesota strong safety Brandon Owens.
Robinson simply walked back to the huddle, having never fallen to the ground. Owens, however, remained on the ground for minutes before being helped off the field.
"That really motivated us," Williams said.
Penn State's 35 first downs were the second-highest total under Paterno, one shy of the 36 his team registered against Temple in 1995.
Robinson's 112 yards rushing were the most for a Penn State quarterback since 2001.
The arrival of Williams and fellow highly touted freshman Justin King on campus has given fans in Happy Valley hope that Penn State can achieve its first winning season since 2002. During the offseason, Williams occasionally called up Robinson just to remind him of two words: national championship.
It remains to be seen how far-fetched that goal remains. What is clear now, though, is the increased number of tools Paterno has offensively, particularly given Williams's versatility.
Last week, Williams caught a 36-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to help Penn State beat Northwestern. On Saturday, his two scores came when he lined up at tailback.
In the first quarter, Williams raced through the middle and flipped head-over-heels into the end zone for the game's opening score. At the beginning of the second quarter, Williams squirted untouched into the end zone for the third touchdown of his career.
"We have to find a way to get him the ball more," Paterno said. "No question about that."
The confidence Williams exudes has seemingly spread to teammates. Even freshman kicker Kevin Kelly displayed a self-assured nature after he connected on a 47-yard field goal in the second quarter, which made the score 20-0. Kelly embraced teammates before the ball even approached the goal posts, apparently knowing it was good when it left his foot.
The Golden Gophers (4-1) finally struck when quarterback Bryan Cupito hooked up with wide receiver Ernie Wheelwright for a 48-yard touchdown reception. Even that did not come easy, as Wheelwright bobbled the ball before finally securing it and reaching the end zone.
"They are a better team than I gave them credit for," Cupito said. "I thought we would come in here and control the game."