STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania (Ticker) -- Larry Johnson shattered his own school rushing record and still wasn't happy.
Two weeks after breaking Curt Warner's 21-year-old school mark, Johnson picked up 279 yards on 31 carries, leading No. 21 Penn State to an 18-7 victory over Big Ten Conference foe Illinois.
Johnson broke his own record by 22 yards, thanks in part to an 84-yard touchdown, but was more concerned with his faults, including a third-quarter fumble.
"It may have appeared that I had a good game in everybody else's eyes," the senior said. "But to me I still did some things that a back at the next level is not supposed to do."
Johnson scored from 84 yards late in the first quarter to become the first Nittany Lion since Curtis Enis in 1997 to rush for 1,000 in a season. As a native of State College, he was appreciative of those who came before him.
"Those guys really paved the way," he said. "And if it wasn't for watching those guys, I wouldn't have learned how to be a 1,000-yard rusher."
Johnson was more concerned with the team's accomplishments. Penn State (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten), which is coming off consecutive losing seasons under venerable coach Joe Paterno, is one win from becoming bowl eligible.
"We can go to any bowl really, it doesn't matter," said Johnson, who helped the school to its 750th win all-time. "Like they say, 'Beggars can't be choosers.' Any bowl they put us in, it could be the Toilet Bowl, I'll still give 100 percent,"
That's what the Nittany Lions have been getting from their defense, which went 11 quarters without allowing an offensive touchdown before Illinois (3-6, 2-3) scored with 5:22 left.
Penn State had yielded a total of 100 points in losing two of three games - both in overtime - earlier this season.
"I think everyone is really comfortable with what they are doing," cornerback Bryan Scott said. "They seem to be learning the scheme and there is an understanding of what we're trying to get done."
The defense helped the Nittany Lions rebound from last week's disappointing 13-7 loss at fourth-ranked Ohio State. The Buckeyes returned an interception for a score in handing Penn State its third loss in five games.
"It really shows the character of this football team," quarterback Zack Mills said. "After three tough losses, we've come back and we're playing good football."
The Fighting Illini aren't. After earning the conference title last season and winning their first three games this year, they have dropped four of six while allowing 158 points.
In its latest setback, Illinois was outgained 423-292 and committed two of the game's three turnovers, but coach Ron Turner was happy with the effort.
"We didn't come here to keep it close, we came here to win a football game," he said. "So it's obviously disappointing. What's encouraging is we have a lot of guys in this team that care."
It took just about all of them to take down Johnson, a fast, bruising back who did it by himself offensively as Mills completed only 13-of-26 passes for 108 yards.
"I struggled again, but given the situation of this game, when Larry's having so much success running the football, it takes a little bit away from that," Mills said.
Johnson's long run capped a four-play, 97-yard drive and made it 9-0. He added 27 yards more on the Nittany Lions' next two possessions, including 22 on a drive that concluded with a 27-yard field goal by Robbie Gould.
Penn State built an 18-0 lead in the final minute of the first half. Johnson rushed eight times for 52 yards on a 12-play drive that Mills finished with a two-yard TD pass to Mike Lukac.
By the end of the first half, Illinois had 97 yards of total offense. Johnson had 187 rushing.
"He is obviously a great player, and we knew that coming in, that was going to be one of the keys of that game is stop the running game," Turner said. "But obviously we couldn't get that done."
"He's a complete back," Illinois linebacker Jerry Shumacher added. "He has all the speed, power and vision you need to play the game."
The Illini fought their way into Penn State territory just once before the closing 2 1/2 minutes of the third quarter. They finally scored with 5:22 left in the fourth as Jon Beutjer capped a 17-play, 73-yard drive with a one-yard toss to Kenny Boyle.
Beutjer drove Illinois to Penn State's 3-yard line on the team's next possession but had a pass tipped into the hands of defensive back Anwar Phillips with 94 seconds left.
Beutjer completed 19-of-28 passes for 157 yards. Dustin Ward shared time and was 7-of-18 for 60 yards with an interception.
Johnson slowed a little in the second half, but not much. He saw little action in the fourth quarter but picked up 61 yards on six carries, 40 on one run, in the third. His last touch of the period resulted in a fumble.
"He broke the record," said brother Tony Johnson, a wideout, "but is probably worried about that fumble."