Live and in HD

The new spread offense at Penn State has an unconventional name—and so far, it has been close to unstoppable
September 14, 2008

WHAT'S IN a name? Penn State's offense is going by the curious title Spread HD, but judging by the way the Nittany Lions trounced Oregon State in Happy Valley last Saturday, that doesn't mean that 81-year-old coach Joe Paterno has suddenly gone pass-happy in high definition.

En route to a 45--14 blowout, Penn State (2--0) showcased an attack that mixes option football with four-receiver sets and a pro-style I formation running game. The Fighting JoePas scored 28 points in the first 19 minutes and finished with 239 yards rushing and 215 passing. Note to Big Ten defensive coordinators: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Running the show is junior quarterback Daryll Clark, a 6'2", 235-pound run-pass threat in the mold of Michael Robinson, who led the Nittany Lions to an 11--1 record in 2005 and an Orange Bowl victory. On Saturday, Clark, who spent the last two years on the bench behind the strong-armed but immobile Anthony Morelli, threw for two touchdowns and ran for another. His versatility has opened things up for Penn State's raft of offensive talent. Sophomore running back Evan Royster rushed for 141 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries, and Jordan Norwood, one of three senior receivers who had at least 40 receptions last year, caught eight passes for 116 yards and a score. Clark admits to not knowing exactly what the HD stands for in Spread HD—Paterno's son Jay, the Nittany Lions' quarterbacks coach, has joked that it's an acronym for highly diverse—but he's clear on what makes the offense click. "So many different people can beat you in so many different ways," he says.

Clark's sparkling play is vindication for Jay Paterno, who recruited Clark out of Ursuline High in Youngstown, Ohio, in 2004, and then stuck with him while he spent a year at a Pennsylvania prep school after failing to qualify academically. When the offense stagnated under Morelli last fall, Jay pushed for Clark to get more playing time, a move his father resisted until Penn State found itself down 14--0 to Texas A&M last December in the Alamo Bowl. Clark came off the bench and ran for 50 yards and a touchdown on just six carries, helping to rally the Lions to a 24--17 win. Jay refuses to say whether Clark should have played more last year, but his excitement is obvious when he talks about Clark's effect on the offense. "We're so flexible now," Jay says. "It's the best of all worlds."

So heady was the postgame mood in the Penn State locker room that even the week's one negative was spun into a positive. The day before, JoePa had suspended three Nittany Lions, including All--Big Ten defensive end Maurice Evans, after police—responding to a complaint about a loud party—found a small amount of marijuana in their apartment on Sept. 2. (At week's end no charges had been filed.) Immediately after Saturday's game senior free safety Anthony Scirrotto spoke to his teammates about maintaining their commitment and being accountable. He might also have been wise to add, Let's not screw this up, fellas.

With upcoming games against Syracuse and Temple, Penn State should be 4--0 when it opens Big Ten play on Sept. 27 at home against No. 24 Illinois. If the Nittany Lions, who climbed from 19th to 17th in the latest AP poll, don't win the conference title, it won't be because of their offense. "We have so many weapons," says Royster. "It should really make teams wonder if there's anything they can do to stop us."

ONLY AT SI.COM
Expert college football analysis on The Sweep blog.

PHOTOAL TIELEMANSLIONS ROAR A perfect fit for a versatile attack, Clark (17) has won over JoePa (below). PHOTOAL TIELEMANS[See caption above]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)