Penn State putting trust in Clark, HD system
|Rob Tringali/Getty Images|
|Daryll Clark has seven TD passes and only one interception this season.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Shortly after being named Penn State's starting quarterback, Daryll Clark used some word play with the title of the team's new offense -- the Spread HD -- to illustrate whether the unit would sink or swim this fall.
"Hopefully HD will stand for hi-def, highly diverse," Clark said. "And hopefully it doesn't turn out to be a huge dud."
Four games into the season, the former looks like the correct interpretation. Few teams in the country have been as multifaceted on offense as No. 12 Penn State, which ranks among the top eight nationally in scoring (52.8 ppg), rushing (274.3 ypg) and total yards (538.5 ypg).
The Nittany Lions have four regular ball-carriers, including Clark, who average at least 5.9 yards per carry. Leading rusher Evan Royster averages a blistering 8.1 yards per carry, and speedy backup Stephfon Green isn't far behind (7.3 ypg). The team's three senior wide receivers -- Jordan Norwood, Deon Butler and Derrick Williams -- all average at least 14 yards per reception.
That qualifies as diverse.
Comparing the current system to its predecessor, it's as if the Lions traded in their black-and-white TV for one with hi-def capabilities.
"Being able to use all the weapons we have has really helped," Royster said. "I don't think [the switch] needed to happen. I just think it fits our personnel. We could have success with a pocket quarterback that can throw the ball. It's really all about the people you have and what you have to work with."
Running a system that uses all of its available resources has built greater confidence across the board.
"Everybody's trusting each other a lot more than they did last year," center A.Q. Shipley said.
The trust trickles down from Clark, who brings a new attitude and skill set to the offense. Shipley likened Clark's demeanor to Michael Robinson, Clark's Penn State predecessor and mentor.
"He does a heck of a job commanding respect," Shipley said. "He plays with a lot of confidence, a lot of swagger. It carries over to everyone on the rest of the team.
The junior leads the Big Ten in passing efficiency (166.1 rating), answering some questions about his throwing skills with seven touchdown tosses against only one interception. Perhaps more important, Clark gives Penn State another rushing threat, averaging 6.8 yards a carry. Last year's quarterback, Anthony Morelli, gained only 119 rush yards all season. Clark already has 96.
After watching Clark's quick start, head coach Joe Paterno admitted this week that he's second-guessing himself for not using Clark in place of Morelli down the stretch last season.
"Having a mobile quarterback makes things a lot easier when you play at this level," Royster said. "We're able to put in a couple option plays, a couple designed quarterback run plays. It really keeps the defense guessing. They can place their mind on stopping us, and if we can distract them with Daryll and get somebody else open, that's what we'll do."
It's important to note that Penn State's early surge hasn't taken place against A-list defenses. Oregon State is the highest-ranked unit the Lions have faced (49th) to this point.
Clark acknowledged he hasn't had to change plays at the line of scrimmage. Royster struggles to evaluate his own play through the first four games because he has spent most of the third and fourth quarters on the sidelines as his teammates add to Penn State's sizable leads.
No. 22 Illinois certainly will provide a better barometer for Penn State on Saturday night at Beaver Stadium (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). But Clark sees value in the string of tune-up games.
"When you have a new quarterback or someone in a position where they haven't played before, you need a couple of games that aren't too difficult," he said. "Those are confidence-building games, and when they go right, it makes you feel better going into the big games."
The first four games definitely went right for Clark and the Lions, who enter the Illinois game stocked with confidence. Royster thought the timing of the new offense would be a challenge at first, but the strong start has Lions players trumpeting a different T-word.
"The coaches have gained a lot of trust in the guys to go out and make plays," Clark said. "They've put a lot of trust in me to execute that offense. I don't think I've done anything for them to distrust it.
"It all comes back to the weapons: the run game, the pass game, the quarterback run game. We can hit defenses from all different angles."