Saturday, September 27, 2008

Featured Match-Up: Derrick Williams vs. Vontae Davis

BIG TEN PLAY opens this week, as the Fighting Illini of Illinois make their way to Happy Valley to take on the undefeated Penn St. Nittany Lions. Penn State’s offense is averaging 53 points per game and if Illinois is to tame the Cats for a second straight season, their key players on the defensive side of the ball will have to step up and play their best football this season.

Wide receiver Derrick Williams, the Maryland native, came to Happy Valley as one of the Nittany Lions’ biggest recruits in school history. The physical skills are there, particularly in the speed department—Williams is a legitimate burner capable of running by defenders. His biggest strength is the ability to make people miss, particularly in the open field, so it’s no surprise that Williams is an electrifying return man as well.

The Nittany Lions use him primarily as a punt returner but he is also a weapon in the running game, on reverses or end-arounds. On the season, Williams has compiled 415 all-purpose yards, averaging 31.8 yards per kick return with one touchdown as the Nittany Lions have roared to a 4-0 start. While he may trail fellow seniors Jordan Norwood and Deon Butler in receiving production so far, Williams (eight receptions, 113 yards) is capable of breaking loose at any point and turning in a big game—he had five receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown when these teams met last season.

One player who will be charged with keeping Williams in check is Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis. The Washington, DC native plays a physical brand of football and racks up tackles at an unusual rate for a cornerback. Through three games, Davis has recorded 23 tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, guiding the Illini to a 2-1 start. During his first two seasons, the junior corner registered 128 tackles, five interceptions, 14 passes broken up and 6.5 tackles for loss.

He capped off his sophomore season with a 13-tackle performance against USC in the Rose Bowl. Davis was so good last year, that he was the only sophomore who was a Jim Thorpe semifinalist. He is considered by some as the top cornerback in all of college football this season. Vontae’s brother, Vernon, played tight end at Maryland and was the sixth overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, selected by the San Francisco 49ers.

When the duo from the Atlantic coast square off against one another in Beaver Stadium Saturday night, not only will bragging rights be on the line, but possibly the outcome of the Big Ten’s premier opening week contest.

Photo Credit: Illinois Sports Information