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Lions answer critics with continued domination

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MADISON, Wis. -- His 81-year-old father doesn't have much use for the Internet, but Penn State quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno spends plenty of time browsing for barbs.

Despite Penn State's sparkling start and the dominating fashion in which it wins games, the younger Paterno continues to find plenty of material to motivate his players.

"Jay tells us all the time," quarterback Daryll Clark said. "He goes on the Internet and prints out an article about something about somebody saying something about us. Then he comes back and tells us."

The common criticisms are:

  • Can't win on the road, especially in league play;

  • Inflated national ranking;

  • Weak nonconference schedule and no signature wins.

"This week, we were listed under the most overrated teams," center A.Q. Shipley said. "Our goal was to prove that we're one of the best teams out there. We feel like we haven't gotten the respect that we deserve."

After a 48-7 win at Wisconsin, the sixth-ranked Nittany Lions should start to get their due. Aside from non-BCS flag bearer BYU, no Top 10 team has been as convincing in victory as Penn State, which has won all seven of its games by 14 points or more.

The Lions have won by an average of 34.3 points and rank among the top 10 nationally in at least six major statistical categories. They have answered questions about their quarterback situation, their response from a troubled offseason, their ability to withstand personnel losses on defense and their poise in tough road environments.

"We came out to prove something to the world," Shipley said, "and I think we did."

Did they prove they should be in the national title talk?

"We certainly deserve to be considered right now," head coach Joe Paterno said.

The elder Paterno spent his second consecutive game in the press box, hobbled by an injured right hip. On the advice of his wife, Sue, Paterno is now using a cane to move around.

His desire to be on the field is obvious, but the view from the top has its benefits. Paterno can "do a better job," whether it's communicating more effectively with all of his assistants or watching the flow of the game.

"I'm afraid somebody's going to come around and ask me for my ticket," Paterno said.

He witnessed quite a show Saturday night, as Penn State built its lead with sparkling special teams play and destructive defense before turning things over to Clark, who led scoring drives of 76 and 82 yards on the Lions' first two possessions after halftime.

As a first-year starter, Clark's poise in road games had been a question mark. But like the rest of the team, the 6-2, 235-pound junior is maturing at a rapid pace.

"This is Camp Randall, and not many teams come in here and put up big numbers," Shipley said. "We put almost 50 up on them. We think we can go as far as everyone on this team takes us, and it starts with the guy up there on the podium [Clark].

"Coming in with a first-year quarterback, you don't expect that. The fact that he's done as well as he has, kept an even keel, kept a level head, just really presented a swagger, he's done one heck of a job."

Of all the criticisms Penn State had received, the road woes stung Clark the most. From 2000-07, Penn State went 12-20 in Big Ten road games.

The Lions hadn't posted wins in consecutive Big Ten road games since 1999.

"We get disrespected all the time about not playing well on the road and being an overrated team," said Clark, who accounted for three touchdowns (2 rush, 1 pass). "We put it behind us, put it in the back of our head, but we never forget those things that are said. We just go out and play."

Despite another victory rich with style points, Clark expects more material from JayPa next week.

"Someone will come up with something else," he said. "Trust me."

After the game, Joe Paterno voluntarily brought up the last time Penn State had a shot at a 7-0 start, back in 2005. The Lions went to Michigan ranked No. 8 nationally but lost on the final play, 27-25.

It was their only setback all season, but it cost them a national title shot.

"Going on the road, big crowd, a team [Michigan] that really wasn't playing that well," Paterno said. "I thought of that team."

The leader of that team, former Lions quarterback Michael Robinson, spoke to Clark this week about handling another Game 7.

"He told me [Friday], 'Always remain composed and poised on the road, because you're going to face some adversity,'" Clark said. "He doesn't really like to dwell on the past, but he knows now that I'm in the situation that he was in."

Clark wants to take Penn State beyond Robinson's mark this fall, and Saturday night was a big step.

"We can compete [with] and beat just about any team out there," defensive end Aaron Maybin said. "I really haven't seen any team on film or have played that I feel like is better than us."