SAN ANTONIO — On any football team, the backup quarterback is usually the most popular player in town. For Penn State during the 2007 season, that person was Daryll Clark.
After the junior quarterback’s spot performance in Saturday’s Valero Alamo Bowl, those fans that had clamored for his insertion into the lineup are most likely saying this morning, “I told you so.”
Inserted into the game at six strategic points in Penn State’s 24-17 win over Texas A&M, Clark gave Nittany Lion fans a glimpse into the future as he ran for 50 yards on six carries and scored a touchdown.
After just seeing mop-up duty throughout the regular season, Clark was understandably thrilled about finally contributing meaningful yards to a Penn State win.
“It felt great,” a beaming Clark said.
“I gained the trust of the coaches all during bowl practice. Coach Jay Paterno told me I was going to be in the script. I got excited about that. He grabbed me before the game and told me to make sure I stayed focused, make sure when I go in to make the most of it. When he gave me those calls, I was nervous at first, but after the first hit, it was all go.”
Clark said afterward, as balloons cascaded down from the Alamodome rafters, that he told starter Anthony Morelli in the preseason he would make him work to keep his job and Clark would be ready when called upon. He must have delivered on that promise. Head coach Joe Paterno said he was tempted to employ similar tactics during the regular season.
“I’ve been anxious to try to get him in there. It didn’t seem at times it was the right time to do it,” Paterno said. “Morelli has been playing well. I felt sticking Clark in there during the season would lead to more speculation. Anthony knew Clark was going to play. We kept Anthony in there to try to disrupt some of their substitutions. He (Clark) did well. He’s a good competitor.”
The genesis for the plays designed for Clark came during the practices leading up to the bowl, offensive coordinator Galen Hall said.
“I think it was good he got to play. Any time you have a layoff like we did, you tinker around with new formations, new plays, that called for Daryll to do it,” Hall said. “He runs the ball inside a little better than Anthony. We felt it was a good change of pace.”
And, Hall said, should Clark win the starting job in 2008, it could signal a return to some of the same offensive plays Michael Robinson ran during Penn State’s 2005 season.
“We could spread it out like we did in ’05,” Hall said. “We picked out pieces of it to use tonight.”
The prospect of winning the starting job has Clark eager for practices to start again.
“I can’t wait,” he said. “I’m looking forward to everything that next season has to bring. I’m very confident that I will win the starting job and we’ll see what happens.
“Like I said, there’s a lot of work to do in the offseason. I’m going to work the hardest I’ve ever (worked), not that I don’t work hard. But now that this is going to be my offense, I have a chance to make this my offense, we have a lot of special things we can do with this offense. I’m very excited.”
Clark added that he has done enough of the NCAA-required class work toward graduation to earn another year of eligibility after the 2008 season. So, it could be a two-year hitch.
“I’m very confident. Obviously there’s a lot of work to do. There’s a lot of work to do with the wideouts, offensive line and the running backs. All of that’s going to come into play when preseason workouts start. I’m very excited about next season. It can’t get here any sooner.”
Nittany Lion fans couldn’t agree more.