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Penn State Big Ten
This article appears in the August 17th, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated
With top playmakers gone, the QB and the linebackers are the show.
This is Daryll Clark's team now. After watching from the sideline for the better part of two seasons, taking only 36 snaps, he emerged last year as one of the most dangerous option quarterbacks in the country. The 6-2, 233-pounder produced 2,874 yards of total offense, passed or ran for 29 touchdowns, seldom made a bad decision and managed the offense brilliantly as Penn State scored a Big Ten?best 38.9 points per game, had 11 wins and went to the Rose Bowl. Clark enters his senior year a Heisman Trophy candidate.
But with the departure of the most prolific trio of wideouts in school history, there's concern in Happy Valley about the potency of the vaunted Spread HD. The top four receivers on the depth chart following spring practice combined for 29 catches last season. More than mistake-free football, the Nittany Lions need Clark to be a playmaker. "Daryll is able to assert himself now because he knows he's the Guy," says quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno. "He's so much more confident."
Clark, who completed almost 60 percent of his passes in 2008, gets a boost from two backs who combined 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 Stephfon Green, who has clocked a 4.25 in the 40. Offensive coordinator Galen Hall has hinted that he might flank one or both of his backs as receivers to create different looks and exploit matchups. Hall also plans to ease the burden on his young line -- only center Stefen Wisniewski, moving over from right guard, and right tackle Dennis Landolt return -- by spreading the field. "The talent is there, on the line and at receiver," insists Clark. "The only thing those guys are lacking is experience."
The same could be said for a defense that has only four starters back (none in the secondary), so Linebacker U will be relying on -- what else? -- its linebackers. Junior Navorro Bowman, a 6-1, 230-pound hitting machine who mans the weak side, didn't crack the starting lineup until the fourth game last year but still earned All-Big Ten honors. He'll be joined by fifth-year senior Sean Lee, the conference's second-leading tackler two seasons ago who missed all of 2008 with a torn right ACL, and either sophomore Michael Mauti, who drew raves in the spring, or Josh Hull, a 6-3, 236-pound senior who was second on the team in tackles last year while filling in for Lee.
While the defense settles in, the offense would do well to score early and often. "There are probably a lot of people counting us out," Clark says, "but the guys we need to step up will step up. I guarantee it."
-- Mark Beech
Issue date: August 17, 2009