THIS IS DaryllClark's team now. After watching from the sideline for the better part of twoseasons, taking only 36 snaps, he emerged last year as one of the mostdangerous option quarterbacks in the country. The 6'2" 233-pounder produced2,874 yards of total offense, passed or ran for 29 touchdowns, seldom made abad decision and managed the offense brilliantly as Penn State scored a BigTen--best 38.9 points per game, had 11 wins and went to the Rose Bowl. Clarkenters his senior year a Heisman Trophy candidate.
But with thedeparture of the most prolific trio of wideouts in school history, there'sconcern in Happy Valley about the potency of the vaunted Spread HD. The topfour receivers on the depth chart following spring practice combined for 29catches last season. More than mistake-free football, the Nittany Lions needClark to be a playmaker. "Daryll is able to assert himself now because heknows he's the Guy," says quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno. "He's so muchmore confident."
Clark, whocompleted almost 60% of his passes in 2008, gets a boost from two backs whocombined for 1,814 rushing yards last season: 6'1", 209-pound Evan Royster,a smooth runner with great hands, and 5'10", 192-pound flash StephfonGreen, who has clocked a 4.25 in the 40. Offensive coordinator Galen Hall hashinted that he might flank one or both of his backs as receivers to createdifferent looks and exploit matchups. Hall also plans to ease the burden on hisyoung line—only center Stefen Wisniewski, moving over from right guard, andright tackle Dennis Landolt return—by spreading the field. "The talent isthere, on the line and at receiver," insists Clark. "The only thingthose guys are lacking is experience."
The same could besaid for a defense that has only four starters back (none in the secondary), soLinebacker U will be relying on—what else?—its linebackers. Junior NavorroBowman, a 6'1", 230-pound hitting machine who mans the weak side, didn'tcrack the starting lineup until the fourth game last year but still earnedAll--Big Ten honors. He'll be joined by fifth-year senior Sean Lee, theconference's second-leading tackler two seasons ago who missed all of 2008 witha torn right ACL, and either sophomore Michael Mauti, who drew raves in thespring, or Josh Hull, a 6'3", 236-pound senior who was second on the teamin tackles last year while filling in for Lee.
While the defensesettles in, the offense would do well to score early and often. "There areprobably a lot of people counting us out," Clark says, "but the guys weneed to step up will step up. I guarantee it."
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HALL MIGHT FLANK ONE OR BOTH BACKS AS RECEIVERS.
CONFERENCE: Big Ten
COACH: Joe Paterno (44th year)
2008 RECORD: 11--2 (7--1 in Big Ten)
FINAL AP RANK: 8
RETURNING STARTERS: 8
Offense 4, Defense 4
3 at Illinois
10 Eastern Illinois
24 at Michigan
31 at Northwestern
7 Ohio State
21 at Michigan State
By avenging their lone conference defeat of 2008, theNittany Lions would be well-positioned to cruise through their Big Ten scheduleuntil facing Ohio State and Michigan State. The Hawkeyes have won six of thelast seven in the series.
Though he is one of only four starters back on offense,junior Evan Royster is the top returning rusher in the Big Ten. Royster ran for1,236 yards, averaged 6.5 yards a carry and scored 12 touchdowns in 2008.
Clark, a 59.8% passer in '08, will be exercising his legs more in '09.