Rashard Casey zigged and zagged his way up the field, bobbing and weaving through the defense and even throwing in two 360-degree turns for good measure.
By the time he was finished, his Penn State teammates were amazed and Illinois was dazed and confused.
“He just makes big plays,” Penn State fullback Mike Cerimele said. “He made two of them today and turned the momentum.”
Did he ever.
Casey, the lesser-used half of Coach Joe Paterno’s quarterback tandem, bailed out the Nittany Lions Saturday, throwing for one touchdown and running for one as Penn State beat Illinois, 27-7.
Penn State, 9-0 overall and 5-0 in the Big Ten Conference, has won 11 straight, the second-longest win streak in Division I.
“If the team’s flat, I’m going to try to spark them somehow,” said Casey, who completed three of six passes for 49 yards and rushed for 75 yards.
Though Penn State extended its winning streak over Illinois (4-4, 1-4) to six games, the victory was much tougher, and much sloppier, than a No. 2 team can afford at this time of the year. Despite repeatedly getting good field position from kick returner Bruce Branch, the Nittany Lions’ offense was pitiful through the first 2 1/2 quarters.
Kevin Thompson threw three interceptions and Casey was ineffective in his first series, getting sacked for a seven-yard loss. Penn State got to the Illinois 36 four times without scoring.
Casey changed that with 2:22 left in the third quarter when he froze Illinois linebacker Danny Clark with a pump fake and lofted a pass to tight end Tony Stewart for a 16-yard touchdown.
Then, on the first play after a botched punt gave Penn State the ball at the Illinois 34, Casey made the game’s biggest play. After looking briefly to pass, Casey took off running, eluding at least five Illinois players and even pushing a few of his teammates out of the way to make his way up field. He darted and spun around twice before finally scoring the touchdown that gave the Nittany Lions a 24-7 lead.