- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The play changed the course of two teams' seasons, reshuffled the Big Ten title race and launched a very good player to superstar status.
Adrian Clayborn doesn't get asked about it much any more. It's a new season at Iowa, and what he did a year ago at Beaver Stadium won't help or hurt the Hawkeyes as they prepare for Saturday night's showdown against No. 22 Penn State.
But few have forgotten about Clayborn's punt block and return for a touchdown that helped lift unranked Iowa past No. 5 Penn State and put the Hawkeyes on track for a historic 9-0 start in 2009.
"It was was one of those plays, kind of like [Warren] Holloway catching the ball in the Capital One Bowl," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said, referring to Halloway's 56-yard touchdown with no time left to win the 2005 Capital One Bowl. "It was a great effort on [Clayborn's] part, a high-effort play and a very athletic play to scoop the ball up and take it in for a touchdown.
"Those are Kodak moments, but what he does down to down to down, that's what really makes him an outstanding player."
What Clayborn is doing down to down this season still stands out to Ferentz, even though the box score doesn't show it.
Clayborn's statistics through the first four games are unremarkable: 15 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries. No sacks or forced fumbles or blocked kicks. Although Clayborn's numbers mirror what he did in the first four games of 2009, some expected a bigger impact from a consensus preseason All-American who bullied his way to 11.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles as a junior.
But the impact is still there. It's just not showing up on the stat sheet -- yet.
"I've been playing pretty good," Clayborn said. "I haven't gotten the stats people want, but I've been hustling, my motor's going."
Clayborn's motor sets him apart from many defensive ends. Not only does he have size (6-foot-4, 285) and strength, but he wears down offensive linemen with his relentless play.
Consequently, opposing teams are frequently double-teaming No. 94.
"That’s what the coaches keep saying, but when I get out in the game, it's normal," Clayborn said. "They may chip the back or something like that
Added Ferentz: "He's dealing with it very well."
The double-teams against Clayborn already have helped other Iowa defensive linemen like Mike Daniels, who recorded four tackles for loss and a sack last week against Ball State, earning him Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Week honors.
"With the reputation he has, it does draw more attention," Daniels said of Clayborn. "It opens up things for other guys, and with the defensive line we have, that's not a smart thing to do."
Clayborn certainly is on Penn State's radar after what he did last year. Nittany Lions left tackle Quinn Barham kept a picture of Clayborn on his cell phone during the offseason as a reminder of what he'll face Saturday night.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno likens Clayborn to Julius Peppers when Peppers starred for North Carolina.
"He's so quick coming off the ball and he's got a couple moves," Paterno said. "If you overplay him to the outside, he'll come underneath, and if you set back too far, he'll run right over you. He's a big kid, long arms. If you wanted to draw up what a defensive end should look like physically, you'd draw a guy like that up.
"He's one of the best football players we’ve played against, not only this year but for a lot of years."