STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The most compelling part of Penn State's 31-7 win Saturday over Akron turned out to be the pregame introductions.
Coach Joe Paterno jogged out of the Beaver Stadium tunnel with his players, his first game back on the sideline since the Hall of Fame coach had hip replacement surgery last November.
Then quarterback Daryll Clark and the rest of the No. 9 Nittany Lions overwhelmed the Zips in a first half so dominant, the rest of the game was a mere formality.
Clark threw for a career-high 353 yards and three touchdowns, and a tenacious defense held Akron without a first down until the third quarter as Penn State celebrated their 82-year-old leader's return to the field.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"Did you clock me in the 100 meters?" Paterno jokingly asked afterward.
Wearing his trademark black sneakers and khakis - without the pants rolled up - Paterno struck familiar poses pacing the sideline and arguing with officials.
This marks his 60th season at Penn State - 16 as an assistant and the next 44 as the man in charge - and he walked off the field with his 384th victory, now two ahead of Florida State's Bobby Bowden. The Seminoles play Monday night.
Paterno's apparently healthy again, too. He spent the last seven games of the 2008 season coaching on game days from various press boxes, ailing from a hip he hurt while demonstrating an onside kick a year ago.
"I just wanted to see if I could do it. I've been reluctant to do much running because it's been less than a year since they replaced the hip," he said. "I was glad I could come out ... but I hope as the season goes on it will be a little better."
Penn State left no doubt on the field they were the better team.
The defense held Akron to 186 yards total offense, 28 on the ground. The Zips managed a paltry 22 total yards and minus-17 rushing in a dismal first half.
Penn State's defense had Akron quarterback Chris Jacquemain on the run most of the day, recording 13 tackles for losses and four sacks.
"They're the best defense we're going to see all year," Akron quarterback Chris Jacquemain said. "They got a lot of pressure on me. I kind of expected that, but we couldn't handle it at times."
Akron didn't record a first down until the third quarter, with Penn State leading by 31.
Evan Royster's five-yard TD run with 6:15 in the first quarter capped a seven-play, 84-yard drive for a 7-0 lead to get the blue-and-white party started.
Akron's next series typified the Zips' frustrating afternoon.
Defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu stuffed Norman Shuford for a 3-yard loss. Akron went with a no-huddle attack, but defensive end Jack Crawford took down Alex Allen on an outside run for a 4-yard loss. Jacquemain threw incomplete on third down, his pass in the flat sailing high over the head of Shuford, who was smothered by linebacker Sean Lee.
It was a smashing return, too, for Lee, who had seven tackles in his first game after missing 2008 with a right knee injury.
"That was fun, it got my adrenaline running," said Lee, a team captain with Clark. "I had those chills down my back again."
Akron went three-and-out on drives the rest of the first half, while the Nittany Lions played pitch-and-catch on offense. The Zips were the perfect opponent for a Penn State offense breaking in a new receiving corps and three new starters on the offensive line.
Clark was 29 for 40 passing for the day, the second-highest single-game total for completions in school history. He had 254 yards in the first half alone, a school record.
Clark's throw to a leaping Graham Zug just before halftime gave Penn State a 31-point cushion.
"They're a top 10 football team with a great quarterback and a great running back, and I think you can add to that now some great receivers," Akron coach J.D. Brookhart said.
Zug's touchdown were the last points Penn State would score. Paterno said many of his younger players "thought the thing was over at halftime."
"We just did not have any consistency in the second half. We didn't come off the football on either side of the ball, so I was disappointed," he said. "But we still won the football game."
Jacquemain was 13 for 22 passing for 158 yards, one interception and a 40-yard touchdown to Deryn Bowser in the third quarter for Akron's only score.