Despite cruising into the regular-season finale with Michigan State at Beaver Stadium with a 10-1 record, the Penn State offense has not been hitting on all cylinders since a 46-17 thumping of Michigan a month ago.
Even in last week's 34-7 home win over hapless Indiana, the Nittany Lion offense never really found its rhythm.
Senior receiver Deon Butler thinks he knows why. On his conference call with the media Tuesday morning, the school's newly crowned all-time leading pass catcher admitted that players have spent too much time worrying about play-calling.
The problem is you have a lot of guys on our team who have played a lot of football, Butler said. We obviously know what we're talking about when we see defenses being thrown at us, and what can work. Sometimes we got a little carried away with [saying] we should be running this play or we should be running that play.
Monday, Butler talked with center and team captain A.Q. Shipley about the issue. The meeting was productive.
We both agreed we just need to kind of get back to our old ways, Butler explained. Whatever play they call, let's execute, and let's not get carried away with what plays we are not running. We want to get that swagger back and that confidence back where it doesn't matter what plays are called.
It should be noted that Penn State is still the Big Ten leader in average scoring by a wide margin, at more than 39.4 points per game. Illinois is second at 30.4 points per game.
There is a lot on the line when the Spartans come to town this week. With a win, Penn State secures the Big Ten title and a BCS bowl bid, most likely to the Rose. It is also Senior Day, as 17 veterans — including Butler and Shipley — will be playing their final game in Beaver Stadium.
With that in mind, Butler said the seniors on offense have spoken to the underclassmen, telling them the same thing they discussed among themselves: Let's execute our play calls instead of worrying about what plays we aren't running, he said.
Butler also took some time to have a heart-to-heart with junior quarterback Daryll Clark, who has seemed out of sorts since sustaining a concussion in a win at Ohio State Oct. 25. In the win over Indiana, Clark threw an interception and lost two fumbles, and by the end of the game was running with both hands wrapped tightly around the ball.
Clark has 10 fumbles on the year and has lost four of them.
I told him to get back to going how you used to go, Butler said. Stop holding the ball with two hands. If you're going to fumble, you're going to fumble, because two hands doesn't seem to help. Just make plays and stop worrying about it, because when he carries it with two hands, I think he's thinking about it too much. Just go back to the old way you were playing — just running, throwing and having fun.